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Health Ministry’s Initiative to Provide Adolescent Peer Education; Study Material Talks about Tolerance, Breaking Stereotypes

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The Health Ministry has decided to provide peer education to adolescents through adolescent peer educators, who will be called ‘saathiya.’ The resource material prepared for them, which was released by the health Secretary C K Mishra on 20th February, seems greatly progressive considering that issues like sex and sexuality, gender and gender roles are still sensitive topics in India.

The resource material not just refers to attraction to the same or opposite sex as a normal feeling, but also emphasises the importance of consent of and respect for the partner. A section of the kit reads as follows

“Yes, adolescents frequently fall in love. They can feel attraction for a friend or any individual of the same or opposite sex. It is normal to have special feelings for someone. It is important for adolescents to understand that such relationships are based on mutual consent, trust, transparency and respect. It is alright to talk about such feelings to the person for whom you have them but always in a respectful manner[… ]Boys should understand that when a girl says ‘no’ it means no,[…]”

The resource material also takes a step to break gender stereotypes by stating in the section of mental health that it is fine for boys to cry. It further calls into question the appropriateness of categorisations like “sissy” or “tomboy.”

The section on reproductive deals exhaustively with sexually-transmitted diseases, safe-sex, contraceptive options and abortion, while laying stress on the need for parental or guardian’s consent for abortion of girls younger than the age of 18 years.

The resource kit will be circulated to different states as part of the adolescent peer education programme. Around 26 crore adolescents across the country will benefit from the voluntary work of these peer educators who are being trained under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK). On the occasion of the release of the kit which has been prepared in collaboration with United Nations Population Fund , Mishra is reported to have been said:

“Despite the expansion of media, there are many unanswered questions in the minds of young people in villages. Saathiya will address these questions. We are also talking about behavioural change and a change in thinking, […]”