Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Child sexual abuse

“According to a 2007 study by Indian government of nearly 12, 500 children from across India, 53% of children both boys and girls equally were victims of sexual abuse. The report found out that 31% of the sexual assaults were by an uncle or neighbor. Also over 70% of children had never spoken to anyone of what was done to them.” 

"Understanding and challenging Child sexual abuse"
The above statistics of child sexual abuse is alarming and at the same time scary because at this age, children don’t really know what is happening to them or what to do when their relative (someone who is trusted in the family) or an elderly person touches them inappropriately? To bridge the gap of not knowing ‘what is happening to them?’ to ‘what to do when they experience child sexual abuse’, we initiated ‘Sahas’ with an aim to build adolescent’s capacity towards understanding and thereby challenging child sexual abuse (which we see as form of gender based violence). But at the same time, it was necessary to go step by step wherein the adolescents learn about their identity, puberty, physical body changes- development of primary and secondary sexual organs – how they are affecting them and people around them, social and psychological aspects about growing up by engaging in a space where boys and girls can talk openly about these aspects and finally talking about child sexual abuse.

So here we are, after 5 week long engagement with adolescents at ‘My Perch’ in our last workshop “Understanding and challenging child sexual abuse”. The day began with the game of ‘Goat and fox’ followed by screening of ‘Komal’ a film on child sexual abuse by Childline.
Through a power point presentation, child sexual abuse was explained in detail along with the statistics to share the gravity of the issue and why it is important to report child sexual abuse. The participants who were usually noisy, giggling, talking (not that we don’t like this side of them) were silent and seemed focused on the discussion. Then the participants were invited to share if they had or seen sexual abuse happening in their community.

After deafening silence, a 13 years old participant shared experiences of child sexual abuse that included her friend being raped by her step-father and consequent incidences, at that time she didn’t know what had happened? She had asked her mom and also teacher but instead of telling her the truth, they asked her to keep her mouth shut.  With lot of courage and trust on the circle, she could share a very crucial part of life which was hidden from 3 years and had deep impact on her life. Since the workshop environment had become very intense and it was possible that some could take on her sharing, we shrugged it off by playing ‘passing the coin game. 

We then discussed ‘what to do if I experience sexual abuse or see it happening around me’. It is here, we emphasized on the reporting of child sexual abuse, informing about the experience to a trusted adult that could be parents, teacher, and elder siblings being the most important step.
Then we invited participants to prepare their personalized safety action plan which they could use in times of danger!!! It was simply beautiful to see how the participants were asking questions and taking efforts to make the plan.

Since this was our last workshop, we also introduced the concept of counseling day and our counselor on-board Radhika explained the importance and need of counseling. After the lunch break, we did a detailed feedback process with the participants by inviting them to write answers to the questions prepared on the basis of the sessions we had conducted throughout the intervention. Lot of things were happening at the same time like we wanted to click a group picture, however it was interesting to see the participants engrossed in writing answers as if there was some class test happening.
Feedback or class test ?
“This is amazing, I have never seen something like this happening in library this, no one is really making noise, all of them are sitting at different corners, they were so much into completing their answers, and they are opening their mouth only for the explanation of questions”, shares Kamya, founder at My Perch.

And I was thinking “Ahhh! We did it finally! What seemed impossible few months back had turned into beautiful reality. All my assumptions and things I have been hearing about children that don’t understand things, it will be difficult to explain concepts of gender and sexuality with them and for sure they can’t challenge gender based violence just washed away because 25 informed adolescents stood in front of me who were empowered enough to challenge any form of gender based violence”

Somebody has rightly said, “Only a child sees things with perfect clarity because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Thinking beyond Gender ‘Binary’

“Didi, who is kinnar?”
“Can a man love another man?”
“Why people become hizras?”
“Can they also marry and give birth to babies?”
Who are the 'others'?
These are some of the questions I have been bombarded with after I had conducted the session on ‘Puberty’, ‘Love, sex and relationships’, so we thought it is necessary to discuss and resolve these curiosities. Another reason to divulge into this discussion was that it is during adolescence, one starts identifying their gender and sexuality, which can be beyond being ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, though it is never easy to experience and accept that since the society we live in still emphasizes on gender binary. 

Discussing and talking about different gender and sexual identities at this point, can work in two ways- firstly if there is an adolescent who identifies as homosexual or transgender can really understand that this is as normal as being a boy or a girl and their experience of identifying their sexuality would be easier, secondly this would also build empathy towards other gender since they have been hearing many things about them from society which are not necessarily true and can develop fresh perspective about the same. Above all, I knew this discussion will be intense and intriguing.

Painting the desires

The session began with mapping out “My desires” to explore what are the various desires they have for themselves and with respect to their relationships. Through comfort and discomfort activity, the participants were invited to answer the questions for example- ‘Are you comfortable with a boy loving a girl?’, ‘Are you comfortable with girl loving a girl?’ etc in form of dots on a sheet of paper. We did mind mapping around what thoughts, feelings or questions comes to your mind when you hear the word “Hizra”. It was very intense 20 minutes for me, as I heard and wrote numerous questions and all those things people do in their ignorance to hizras like why are they like this? Why don’t they get to live with their family? How do their sex organs look like?  Why are they different from us? They do black magic; shopkeepers don’t take money from them, Does their blessings and curse works? and many more. 
Who are 'Hizras?'

I was surprised and taken aback that at such a young age they had heard and seen so much about hizras and because these assumptions are not sorted out here, they then form thick layer of conditioning, creating a barrier against knowing them and ultimately results into discriminating “Hizras”. 

Through a chart paper having pictures and written description, I explained various gender and sexual identities. I could see confused faces, surprised faces, disgusted faces, smiling faces and scared faces. I tried answering all possible questions that were coming to me, which actually left me exhausted. With every workshop comes a new learning that just motivates me further. Finally we closed the session after screening the movie “I am that” which portrays the life and struggles of transgender. 

“Before we talk about reflections, let’s talk about future. I want to do a closure event that could showcase the beautiful work that you people are doing. I am very happy with the workshop processes and the way the entire intervention has come along. The kids are engaging, they are able to understand the concepts and reflect on them. I can see and feel the power of the space as I thought one or another participant would drop out, contrary to this assumption the kids who were not participating got attracted and started engaging which left me surprised. So let’s do this”, shares Kamya Dargan, Founder, My Perch.    

I liked this synergy of work! Before we were leaving she shared her idea with the participants, “We have been part of many workshops, but these workshops are different. Isn’t it, so many of us are sharing our stories and learning new things so why not share our stories with other people? Let’s celebrate this. What say?”
A loud ‘Yes’ brought heaps of excitement and happiness in us!

'Deciphering Gender'

“I always wear jeans and shirt but nowadays I am asked to wear suit- salwar. One day when my mom was not at home and I had to go to market, I wore jeans and as soon as I stepped out of home, my neighbor interrupted and said that the good girls don’t wear jeans, by wearing this you are trying to attract attention of boys. 
Decoding 'Gender'

On the other hand, my sister-in-law taunted that it’s because girls wear short clothes that leads to rape” shares 12 years old participant. This was alarming! Finally we have come to the point where we and the participants were ready to talk about what it means to be a boy or a girl? Broadly we were now ready to decode “Gender”. The day began with energizing the participants by inviting them to interact with their partner via gibberish on various topics like pink and blue; pant and skirt and others. 

We screened the movie ‘Girl and Boy’ followed by dividing them into pairs having one girl and one boy each, they were then invited to stand in concentric circles. The participants were asked to share with their partner on ‘What is that one thing they would like to do if they are of opposite gender?’ Strangely most of the boys shared that if they were girl then they would like to cook food! One of them also shared that he would go to parlor, wear colorful dresses. On the other hand most of the girls shared that they would enjoy freedom, will ride bike, would also do job when they grow up. Then they were asked ‘What is that one thing they won’t do if they are of opposite gender?’ A 9 years old boy said, “I would never put nail polish, people tease me”. Most of the boys didn’t want to marry if they were girl, some of them didn’t want to have periods as in future they might become pregnant. While girls shared that they won’t engage in fights or tease girls.

To dig dipper what it means to be a girl or a boy, we shared our personal gender stories and then screened “Lesser men”. The participants were divided into 3 groups where each of them was invited to share 3 key messages they have received about being a girl and boy. I have been doing this with young people and I had also participated in the same activity many times, but what these adolescents shared stumped me! A 12 years old boy shared, “During navratras, girls are invited to eat food on the 9th day whereas boys are not even invited.” Few messages involved, “Ladhkiya paraya dhan hoti hai”, “boys bring glory to family’s name” “Girls should wear suit salwar” “Girls should learn how to cook, otherwise what will they do in their husband’s home?” 14 years old boy shared, “I love dancing, I am always taunted that I can do girl’s steps better than boy’s steps. During dance too, I am questioned on the make-up, that’s why my parents don’t want me to do dance”. 

Moving forward, through the game of Chinese whispers and co-constructing the story we tried to understand from where “Gender” is coming. I had been doing this session for past 2 years, and I had always seen facilitators getting stuck while weaving the story with the blocks like ‘why a man and woman had to live together?’ ‘What do man and woman do to give birth to a child?’ were difficult to process; also to share about sex at this point didn’t make sense. However this time sharing the story was so fluid and effortless as we had already taken workshop on ‘Puberty’, ‘love, sex and relationships’ and participants knew what sex is? How a woman gets pregnant? Things were working out for good. It was heartening to see a 12 year old boy explain sex in detail so that rest of the participants can understand. I am definitely feeling energized.

To take this understanding further, the adolescents were divided into 4 groups and were invited to discuss on the gender differences they see in four different spaces that is home, school, friends and public spaces. The participants presented their discussion in the larger group – few points to share from the discussion were- in home, mostly mothers and sisters cook food, girls are not allowed to go out alone while boys can go out at any time they wish, in schools boys and girls are made to sit separately, teachers tell girls not to talk to boys and make friends with them, in public spaces most of the shopkeepers are men, seats are reserved for females in public transport, different sports to boys and girls, society doesn’t accept boy and girl as friends, if a boy unknowingly touches a girl then also he is looked down upon and many more.

I have been told many times that gender work with adolescents won’t work out as they are not big enough to challenge gender based violence, also they don’t have capacity to understand this issue, but with our intervention with adolescents I have realized that even this is a part of Chinese whisper, in fact it is easier and fun to work with kids as there is no conditioning in them compared to adults, they are receptive to learning.
“Didi, don’t say kids, we are not, we are growing up! You know na, we are undergoing puberty. You only told us” said a 13 years old participant. I could just smile, with them I am also learning to unlearn my assumptions and messages that I have received all my life. Way to go :-)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Do I know how do I look?

“Look at you, you are so fat. Why don’t you go for walk? Please eat less, you can eat food later but can’t get your body back. Look at your friend, she is so slim, she is so active but you just want to increase your weight.” “People always like how you present yourself, your qualities are of no use because no one would be interested in talking to a fatso like you.”
Mirror..Mirror, how do I look?
 “I always thought you are a behenji before I interacted with you. Why don’t you change the way you are?”These are few of the thousands things that I have heard while growing up, (not that now things are different and yes my close ones have said the above lines) they are painful, hurtful and I couldn’t really develop a positive relationship with my body. But with time, I realised that this is who I am and refused to bow down to unnecessary pressure to change my body to suit the societal norms of perfect body.

This personal connect with “Body image” issue motivated me to pre-pond the session and I know adolescents spend a lot of time thinking about their body and how they can achieve the desirable body image created by media and society. As soon as we reached home after 5 hour long workshop on ‘love, sex and relationship’ and 2 hours of metro ride, we hopped on to the re-design the session. Since the next day happened to be 15 August, most of the shops would be closed and so we had no option but to write most of the logistics on our own. Damn my body was aching, eyes were red and swollen but enthusiasm kept me going. The beginning of the independence was very hectic, a computer shop was open- we grabbed printouts of the questionnaire, ran to catch rickshaw, took out some cash and ran to catch metro. In the metro too, I was writing furiously, thankfully we reached on time. The participants were excited for both Independence Day and the workshop. I can see that boys and girls have opened up, there was different kind of energy altogether.

Finally we began with the energizer ‘Happy Happy dance’ where each participant had to dance as they would dance when they are very happy. Oh yes even I danced :-)

The participants were then invited one by one to see themselves in mirror and write the first thought that come to their mind when they see themselves in the mirror. It was very powerful activity as one of the participant came to me to share, “In summers, I get pimples, people make fun of me. I hope I never get them”. This was followed by visioning activity where in participants were invited to see how would they look like in terms of their bodies, hairstyle, height, looks when they are 20 years old and then they wrote letter to their future self. The adolescents took their time, then resorted to a particular place and with unexpected silence wrote letters.

Writing letter to future body
We screened “Lesser men” and mapped their thoughts around what was shown in the movie? The participants were then divided into groups of 4 wherein they had to think about the latest television commercials and fill up the questionnaire which had questions around the body shapes and types seen in the same.
Based on the movie “Lesser men”, questionnaire and mapped thoughts we explained the ideas of Masculinity, Feminine and Body image. I wasn’t surprised to hear when a 12 year old shared that he wants to have a body like well-known actor, voice like that of popular Pop star. 15 year old asked, “So what is the right age for me to go to gym? I am very skinny and I want to look muscular?”
What is Body image?

The participants were then divided into 4 groups and were given situations around body image issues; once they discuss it in their respective groups they presented the answers in larger circle. I particularly liked this tool (small group discussion and then presentation in larger circle) as small group sharing motivate more intense participation, people who are otherwise shy feel comfortable in sharing in small groups, this also helps in team building and presenting the discussion in the larger group gives more confidence and helps in building leadership qualities.

“If I was Rahul, I would practice cricket more, eat healthy food rather than going to gym. I wouldn’t copy anyone else” “If someone judges me for my clothes, then they are not my friends. I would definitely go to party as I am invited, if someone has problems about my clothes then they better not come” “Ram should ignore his friends advice and focus on studies as he likes studying. His friends are just trying to distract him” 

These answers just proved that adolescents are so open to learning, though there were layers of social conditioning but they are ready to peal it off provided they are given right information. I was so happy to see the pro-active participation of the 10 year old kid who joined our workshop the previous day, he not only shared the agreements for the workshop but also lead the group activity. Earlier, this day during revision, 15 year old participant shared how a woman gets pregnant and explained sexual intercourse in detail naming the male and female sexual organs, while a 14 year old explained what masturbation is? And they remembered the Hindi name as well.

“Male and female don’t always do sex for giving birth to children. Kids are big responsibility and one needs to be prepared for it. So when two mature individuals wants to have sex and not get pregnant then male partner wears condom on his sexual organjust like we wear gloves in our hands. It is one of the safest ways to prevent pregnancy with success rate of 95-98%” shared an 11 year old participant. I had tears in my eyes and goose bumps throughout. Wow! He actually remembers this and the confidence with which he shared one of the most tabooed things in front of 20 people is unbelievable! How beautiful and better, society would become if all the adolescents could get this information and are informed about what is happening to them in terms of their physical, emotional, psychological and social state. It would be no less than a revolution of its own kind. These words are imprinted in my heart forever :-)

This ongoing engagement with 20 adolescents has changed so many things about me, I have become more open to learning, answering curious questions, giving away unnecessary assumptions and never ending energy of adolescents. With every passing day we are becoming more confident in taking ‘Sahas’ all across the country for much needed knowledge building on Gender, sexuality and reproductive health. As someone has rightly said, “the more aware you’re of your body, the more confident you become”.