The health ministry’s ‘Saathiya Resource Kit’ for adolescents represents a glimmer of hope in a country that criminalises homosexuality.
Although archaic laws such as Section 377 are still firmly in place, resource material prepared by the health ministry for adolescent peer educators represents an important step towards gender equity, awareness and education in India, Indian Express reported.
Available in both Hindi and English, the Saathiya Resource Kit launched on Monday offers valuable and detailed information about contraception, reproductive health and gender-based violence. Further, it normalises same-sex attraction and emphasises consent and respect as crucial elements of any relationship– sexual orientation notwithstanding.
“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,” reads the resource material.
As part of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), which focuses on health programmes for adolescents, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare hopes that 1.6 lakh adolescents across the country will spread sensitive and age-appropriate information about adolescent health issues to their peers using these kits.
Created in partnership with the UN Population Fund, the kit also dispels gender-based stereotypes in its section on mental health. With unusual maturity, the kit asserts that boys are allowed to cry, and derogatory terms such as “sissy” and “tomboy” are inappropriate.
The particular section reads: “A boy can cry to give vent to his feelings. He can also be soft-spoken or shy. Being rude and insensitive is not a sign of masculinity. It is alright for boys to like things like cooking and designing that are normally associated with girls; adopting the role of the other gender does not mean that he is not male. The same applies for girls who talk too much or like to dress like boys or play games like boys. It is wrong to label such people as ‘sissy’ or ‘tomboy’.”
“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,” health secretary C.K. Mishra said at the unveiling of the kits in New Delhi.
Notably, the reproductive health section of the kit informs readers about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, in addition to putting forward exhaustive information on contraceptive options for both boys and girls; masturbation is listed as one of the best options for practising “safe sex”. There is also information on abortion, and the fact that minors require parental or consent of guardian for minors to undergo abortions.
According to a report by DNA, the peer educators will be trained by the health department. “Two boys and two girls will be identified from each neighbourhood to become peer educators. These educators will work on raising awareness on adolescent health services and impart age appropriate knowledge on key issues to their peer groups,” said Dr. Sushma Dureja, deputy commissioner of the adolescent health division of the health ministry.
The kit contains a range of communication material including short films to be played by peer educators at group meetings, an activity book, and games designed to bring up discussions and resolve queries. Peer educators will be entitled to a “non-monetary” payment of Rs 50 per month, in the form of magazine subscriptions, mobile recharges or any other means as decided by the state.
A toll-free helpline is also set up (1800-233-1250) to act as an “e-counsellor”. The helpline, the ministry hopes, will allow adolescents to access correct information with ease.