StandWeSpeak – Changing sex education in India
I know that millennials are often seen as lazy or entitled. I’m guilty of that too. Heck, I feel that way about myself sometimes.
But what if, we – I’m born in 1984, so yes, I’m saying we – are only called lazy and entitled because we are being compared to generations before us, with different markers of success. An Inc. article said millennials may be the most successful generation of our time.
What if, because we have been awarded the luxury of focusing on want rather than need, by our selfless parents, that we can go on our own terms and fight for what we think matter.
Like our wellness and education. Sexual wellness and sex education to be more specific.
Psychology was her true calling
Priyal Agrawal, from Raipur, Chhattisgarh, founder of StandWeSpeak, is one such millennial, devoting her days to tackling sex education, or the lack thereof, in India. One girl, against billions. Literally.
Like any typical Asian kid, Priyal wanted to make her parents happy by becoming an engineer. She prepared and cleared two notoriously difficult entrances exam for architecture and engineering, and chose architecture for her undergraduation. But her heart was in psychology, and she knew that that was her true calling. Priyal dropped out of architecture in her first year and pursued a degree in psychology.
In May of 2019, she had a chance to do a three-month internship programme in Tihar Jail, part of the Tihar Prisons complex in Delhi. A mental health organisation in India was looking for volunteers to review suicide cases within the jail, and Priyal signed up.
We have to change their mindset
At Tijar Jail, she spoke to many prisoners who were there due to rape accusations. In India, according to local government data, nearly four women are raped every hour. Just writing that sentence makes my stomach churn. Many cases go unreported, buried under shame and fear.
In interviews with rape offenders, Priyal realised that punishing doesn’t really do the trick, it’s the mindset that has to change. They do not even understand what they did wrong.
After the internship, Priyal moved to Goa to work on a research paper, and her research work confirmed her thoughts: that a lot of what was wrong with rape culture in India could be mitigated if comprehensive sex education could be delivered early in people’s lives.
Her platform, StandWeSpeak, is a treasure trove of information that pushes a Comprehensive Sexuality and Safety Education (CSSE), and which aims to equip students, especially the youth and children, with knowledge, attitudes, skills and values to empower them to actively take care of their health, well-being and dignity. It teaches them to respect others and ultimately respect themselves.
“It’s difficult to explain this to an adult, because they have to unlearn, in order to learn the correct thing.” Priyal says.
She knew that the way to bring about change was to start education with the young. Having once been an Indian youth herself, Priyal knew that there was no credible and certified source of information for sex education in her home country. Sex education was not given in school. The only place where youths consumed any form of sex education, was online, via the Internet, as she once did.
Education, product and consultancy
In just 12 months, StandWeSpeak has grown from a one-woman team to eight- staff strong, with an army of 30 volunteers and interns, most of whom are college students between the ages of 18 and 24, keen to make a difference in society.
Priyal’s platform caters to the gen Z-ers, giving them access to a safe space for education, menstrual and contraception products, and access to gender positive sexual and reproductive health consultancy.
As I learned from my chat with Priyal, the second and third pillar of StandWeSpeak are much needed for a holistic delivery of sexual education in India.
Priyal tells me that Section 377 of the India Penal Code was decriminalised on 6 September 2018, and allowed gay sex among consenting adults in private. Though a progressive move, on the ground, access to sexual health consultancy does not follow so easily as there is still a high level of stigma attached to same sex relationships.
StandWeSpeak does the hard work by amassing a pool of medical professionals who are willing to go against the grain, and devote their expertise a growing community continuously marginalised and outcasted by the Indian society.
Hard work, I imagine. But hard work that millennials don’t mind doing.
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