How I Started A Sex Education Revolution in India

They said it couldn’t be done.

More like, they refused to speak or think about it at all. It was the invisible Indian elephant in the room that was quietly butchering girls’ and boys’ emotional well-being across the country.

In India, you can’t say “sex.” Moreover, you can’t walk into a school full of impressionable children and say “sex” to the stern principal of the school. And, you definitely cannot propose teaching small children about their private body parts and safety and homosexuality and how actually, menstruation is clean and magical and it may or may not be ok to go into a temple when you’re on your period, it’s up to you to decide.

I realized early on that to propose sex and gender education in a country where the youth are not supposed to decide for themselves, only listen, and a woman attracts a road-full of male attention if she wears a skirt, was going to be an uphill battle. India used to be a safe place for women many thousands of years ago, but 3,000 years of deep patriarchy has made its mark.

This coming school year, 600,000 eleven to fifteen year old kids across every single region of India are going to be learning everything from puberty and menstruation, to consent, gender roles, safe sex, and LGBTQ, through my program Iesha LearningThey are going to role-play saying “yes” and “no” in complex social situations. They are going to learn that the menstrual cycle is actually 4 weeks, not 4 days, and how our bodies are so smart that they follow the rhythm of the moon. That it’s ok to feel sexual attraction. That boys can be kind and sensitive too, and that the heroes of Bollywood movies might actually get arrested if they stalked women like that in real life.

This sort of education, and at this scale, has never happened before in India. In a country where 80% of Indian women do not know why they menstruate (“it just happens”), and 53% of Indian children — more than half the population — has experienced sexual abuse, we have to understand the magnitude of the social taboo on sexuality and gender. To many people, sex , quite simply, only exists at the moment at which it is happening and at no other time. Complete mental repression.

How is it that half a million middle and high schoolers are getting access to information that was withheld from their older siblings, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents? How did I manage to build something that changes kids’ attitudes, making a crack in the vicious cycle of violence and disrespect and gender inequality and that giant, silencing, uncomfortable, weird thing called a “taboo”? As a twenty-something young Indian-American woman with no previous experience or degree in sex education, and with almost no networks or contacts in the country?

Here’s my story of tackling the single most difficult, complex, and important social issue in one of the oldest and most traditional cultures on Earth...

Continue reading on Medium.

Electric Bras and Panic Buttons Won't Fix India's Rape Crisis

The lovely people at VICE's Motherboard asked us to write an article talking about technology solutions for gender inequality.

So, we did. Here's an excerpt:

Mobile apps won't solve this problem—they will only reinforce the idea that women need to be rescued. This does little except to allow entrepreneurs and public figures to pretend to "have done something about it," and misdirect public attention and resources from solutions that actually fix the systemic issue: the attitudes of men and young boys. Even fostering women-friendly public environments (e.g. women police officers, bright lighting) will only go so far without addressing the root of the issue.

Many people believe that attitudinal and behavioral change is too difficult, or takes too long to manifest. But through my work with Iesha Learning, a social enterprise group I started to develop sex education for Indian schools, I have seen firsthand that have educating boys on consent can change their attitudes and behavior. If we explain basic concepts like sex and gender in a compassionate, friendly, taboo-free way at the right age, boys grow up healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.

Read the whole article here.

How to Prevent Another Mass Molestation like Bangalore New Year’s Eve

Every time another incident of violence against women takes place, I stay silent. I let the politicians make their absurd and disturbing statements of victim-blame, and I let the activists speak out articulately and furiously. I also let the common person wring his/her hands, and lament – What can be done?

In my mind, I know exactly what can be done. We have proven exactly what can be done. But I do not speak.

I think, it’s no use explaining to people, time and again, that if we educate boys on consent, it is possible to change their attitudes and behaviors. If we educate boys on consent, we will create a new India. If we explain basic concepts like sex and gender in a compassionate, friendly, taboo-free way at the right age, boys will grow up healthier, happier, and more fulfilled.

We demonstrated this at a low-income Teach for India school in a tiny, crowded slum in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. We ran our 10 session course on sexuality and gender with 100 8th standard students, boys and girls. At first, the boys, especially, were resistant. They disrupted the class out of embarrassment and deposited absurd questions into our Question Box.

By the end of the course, the same boys were our most heartfelt champions. One thirteen year old boy told me at the end of the course:

“Didi - Before, I used to think that I should get the girl at any cost, by forcing her or doing anything. But after you taught us, my mind changed completely. Now if a girl says "no," I will not feel sad, and I will not force her. I will accept it and move on. I have started telling the other boys about consent too.”

Every man who molested a woman on New Year’s Eve in Bangalore was once this sweet little boy, with confusing feelings, harmful role models, and no accurate information whatsoever.

Isn’t it simple to change this equation? Let us approach our boys with frank information, words, and compassion. We can stop this epidemic.

Because believe it or not, the men molesting women on the streets in Bangalore are not happy men. They are desperate, and they are desperately unhappy. No one has taught them how to be another way.

Are you ready to change this for the next generation?

Share this 5 minute video on consent with every boy and man you know – and let’s create a gender-equal India: