Centre for AlLTERNATIVES CA

Sex Education in Bangladesh

Khaleda Khatoon

"Adolescents in India live in world of extraordinary dichotomy. The large joint family in which they used to live is gradually crumbling, resulting in the withering away of the support structure that so lovingly groomed them during the crucial phase of growing up. This phase of life is fascinating as well as a daunting process. This is especially true in the case of girls whose world gets curbed, controlled and, at the same time, complex during adolescence" This is a foreward of a booklet called 'Adolescent Girl: Mysteries of Adolescence', produced by Voluntary Health Association of India. We think that this is a universal truth applies to all the adolescents of different communities and countries of this world.

Adolescents in our community have hardly any access to services crucial to protection from sex abuse, child pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion when they need it. What we do is deny these basic rights and act as if this adolescent crisis does not exist in our society.

We have recently undertaken a research on the issue of adolescent changes and the crisis they face during this period and the process of understanding and overcoming such crisis. The research was conducted to develop a teachersí guide and an informative film to impart sex education in the schools.

Sex education is not entirely absent in Bangladesh. The entry points were Govt. sponsored aids program, health and family planning etc. Some organisations are trying to motivate the adolescents against STD and HIV-AIDS. The fact is that sex education has never been addressed to support the adolescents to develop healthy, biologically sound and socially equitable and culturally non- violent attitude towards their own and peer's sexual maturation, sexuality and sexual relationship.

The primary motivation of the research was to locate the positive roles of girl student in our society and how a social system can be developed to reduce violence against them in our society. We have also observed that there is a silence in the area of sexual and healthy relationship of people. So another objective of the research is to initiate a healthy discourse on 'breaking the silence' on talking about sex and sexuality amongst and between educators, health promoters, policy makers, parents and adolescents.

Findings of the Research

"When I had my first period I was only 11 year old. One day when I was drenched in rainwater and was changing my cloth I noticed some blood in it. I did not know what to do. My mother saw my wet clothes and told me that it happens to all the girls every month. I was shocked. At the beginning I used to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Slowly I started adjusting myself with the situation. What bothered me most is that my mother and my elder sister behaviour suddenly changed. They did not allow me to go on the roof; I was not even allowed to talk to my brother's friend and other young relatives. I felt like a caged bird. Is there anything wrong in growing up?"

The above is a case study of an adolescent girl of a bangla medium school of Dhaka.

Adolescents are in a period of rapid physical, sexual and emotional development. For about five to six years of our life most of us suffer from various emotional and psychological problems such as fear, confusion, doubts and anxieties due to physical change with development of the primary and secondary sex characteristics along with maturation of reproductive functioning. Due to general lack of information on physical change and reproductive health, they have hard time coping with such problems. They also become isolated when these changes are occurring and the basic counselling becomes a pressing need.

To get the information from the teenagers we organised focus group discussion, interviews and workshop with the students of mainstream English and Bangla medium schools of Dhaka City. The participants were boys and girl students, male and female teachers of different schools. The findings were fascinating and here I would like to present some of it.

In the interviews adolescent children expressed the need for factual information about physical change and reproductive health. Most of them pointed out that the schools could be the premise of such education. To them it is the most neutral space for all the parties to discuss these issues openly with the support of medical professionals.

When an adolescent boy reaches his puberty he has many external physical changes such as wet dream (nocturnal omissions), crack voice, growing pubic hair on different parts of the body etc. When a girl reaches her puberty she has many physical changes such as menstruation or period, developed breast etc. Some changes are common among girls and boys, or instance, growth of hair in private parts and armpit (pubic hair), pimple and oily skin, height etc. These changes take place together with the internal biological change. The reproductive system of man and woman is a reason for these different and common secondary sexual characteristics of a human being.

In the beginning of our interaction with the children most of them were shy and remained quiet/silent but after a while the discussion generated in full motion. Most of them said that they did not have any information or knowledge about these changes. Girls when they had their first period got panicked/frightened and asked mother, elder sister but came to know that it happens to every girl without any further explanation. A boy when he had his first experience of wet dream wanted to ask parents, especially the father, but got warned and was told not to discuss about it or talk about it. It is a bad thing. Later on they went to ask those who work in their households. They received wrong information and faced crisis and in many cases they were sexually abused by them. Boys are more curious to know about their bodily change and to meet their curiosity they read porno magazine and news about rape in the newspapers. They said this was their first encounter regarding knowledge on sex and sexuality. Apparently, it seems that girls have much easy access to information from their mother, than most of the boys.

During the interaction students had specific questions. Girls asked questions like why they bleed and while having period why they they feel hesitant to go out of the house. Girls never found any answer as to why they bleed except one girl said that her doctor mother explained the reason of bleeding to her. In most of the cases a lot of constraints are created for a girl during the adolescent time, for instance, they cannot go anywhere whereas a boy can move about. This sudden imposition by parents makes very little meaning to them. Mothers said the constant insecurity of girl child being sexually abused is the reason to put all kinds of restrictions on them.

Myth and Reality

Misconceptions about certain normal sexual behaviour already predominantly exist in the society, especially about the menstruation and wet dream and masturbation. It gets reinforced when children are also misinformed and misguided about these biological and physiological processes of a human body. Many girls started believing that menstruation is an illness and some of the girls thought it as to be a serious disease. Boys were given wrong information that wet dream and masturbation are disease and a bad practice and if they have it there is something wrong with them. It is dirty and should not be discussed or talked about. Slowly and gradually they start to develop guilty feelings about it. Some misconceptions, which still exist, are if a boy kisses a girl, the girl would get pregnant, if menstruation stops the girl would get pregnant. Pregnancy and giving birth is an unclean thing, girl/women loose blood and it is a painful experience. Boy's believed that only men/boys can have sexual pleasure; woman experience pain during sexual relationship. It is important to demystify these myths and they have to know that these are normal biological and physical behaviour of a human body and this happens due to the production of different hormones in the body.

Boys and Girls Responded Differently

Boys (12-16) said that when they see a girl they get sexually attracted towards the girl but do not know how to explain this behaviour. In many interviews boys said that sexual pleasure is only for men and women only get pain and they must suffer. This is an alarming finding which can increase violence against women in the society. They also believe that girls are stupid and naÔve and fight most of the times. The finding on their first encounter of sex and sexuality through reading news of rape incidents and pornography can easily trigger the male aggression towards women (here we are talking about the boys who are 10 to 16 year old). The students were mostly from middle and upper middle class families and it is shocking to find out that they hold such views about girls.

The girls said they feel attracted and if they want to express their feelings they are not allowed to and usually parents hate it. They asked why boys at similar age can play, jump and go out to play in an open place and they have to stay at home.

Teacher, Parent's Attitude

While we had workshops with students we also had discussions and workshops with the teachers and parents. In most of the cases it was found that the parents only want their children to learn about personal hygiene and reproductive health, not more than that. There was another amazing finding that many male teachers were extremely negative about sex education, while female teachers wholeheartedly supported the initiative of educating children on reproductive health and sexuality (sexual anatomy). They also felt the need to incorporate a curriculum on sex education in the school syllabus.

Conclusion

In the end I would like to add that the objective of the research was to find out the existing views and assumption on the reproductive system and sexual behaviour of the adolescent children of the mainstream schools. On the basis of these findings we are going to produce an informative film which would be used by the school authorities for imparting sex education. Fuad Choudhury who has experience of producing several educational films in the USA, Canada and India would produce this film.

We strongly believe that sex education will enhance the self-confidence of the adolescent girls and boys regarding their own bodies, self - image, especially it would help them to recognise and acknowledge the biological similarities and dissimilarities between the sexes. The knowledge acquired will help to demystify their notions about sexuality, and help them to deal with their own and their peer's body processes with renewed confidence. It will enhance the dignity and self-respect of adolescent girls so that they are able to recognise and resist acts of sexual violence and harassment against them. It will help adolescent girls to articulate the violations against their bodies and their selves, and also articulate the various health emotional and sexual related problems that they may be facing.

The author is an advocate and free lance researcher.