Iesha Learning, which aims to provide gender and sex education for pre-teen and adolescents launched Sexpectations –a forum for Mumbaikars to discuss sexuality on October 1 at a co-working space, The Ministry of New. The agenda of the event was to explore how our attitudes and opinions are shaped by many different factors, and demonstrate how many different opinions can peacefully co-exist in the same room.
The diversity in the room provided for interesting conversations about whether or not it is acceptable to joke about sensitive issues like homosexuality, the pros and cons of dating apps, and whether it is alright to kiss in public, and have sex before marriage.
The event was participatory in nature, and started with an activity in which individuals picked cards with different issues printed on them and stuck them on of three boards: ok, not ok, and unsure.
The most interesting activity was when participants were asked to describe how they broke a societal taboo. Different people across all ages spoke about their relationships, being single, married, abortion, children and monogamy.
“We just want to create a community where these topics can be talked about openly,” explained Gauravi Lobo, “So often these conversations only take place behind closed doors, resulting in a lot of taboos and polarization in our society.”
The event marked the official launch of Iesha learnings courses for adolescents, and tried to give a glimpse into the kinds of activities that the company holds with children.
“Parents often do not know how to broach difficult topics like puberty and peer pressure with their children,” said founder Nilima Achwal. “So, we take the burden off parents, and provide children with all of the right information, in a safe, fun, and happy environment.”
Iesha learning runs its courses out of the Ministry of New, and also partners up with NGOs to provide sex education to teenagers. It has also developed video content. It is planning to hold another event which will be targeted towards parents on October 22 at the Ministry of New.
It looks like this sort of initiative is what Maharashtra needs. In a Wall Street Journal article, Ketaki Chowkhani a doctorate in women’s studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai said that the Indian government is abdicating its responsibility which is why sex education is being outsourced to private organisations.
After all, back in 2007, Maharashtra shockingly voted against the CBSE’s proposal to implement sex education in its curriculum as part of its Adolescent Education Program. The bill was passed in 2008, but the controversy led to patchy and lacklustre implementation. The taboo against talking about sex is so pronounced in India that in 2014, that the then Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, wrote that sex education in schools should be banned.