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Sexual and reproductive health: 18-year-old breaking taboos in Nilphamari

  • Published at 11:36 pm November 19th, 2019
Jesmin Akter Jui, who has challenged the conventional norms surrounding sexual and reproductive health in Nilphamari Kohinur Khyum Tihila

Jesmin Akhter Jui is a shining example of youth leadership

In a class full of teenagers, all whispering and giggling, one girl had the “audacity” to ask about the elephant in the room: “sexual health.”  

When sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is still a hush-hush topic in our society, Jesmin Akter Jui, an 18-year-old from a remote village in Nilphamari’s Chilahati union, is educating local teens about the “banned” subject. 

This effort of hers is slowly – but surely – breaking taboos surrounding sex education in the community.  

This amazing initiative has now become a one-stop solution for youngsters of both genders, making them more and more aware of sexual and reproductive health. 

How it all started

Jui, with a dedicated group of students from Gosaiganj School and College in Nilphamari, established  “Mukto-Mona Kishori Club (Freethinker Adolescent Girls’ Club),” which started providing training sessions from June this year, on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Recalling the early days of her initiative, Jui said a student’s mother asked her: “Do you not have any shame at all? How could you talk about this [sex education] in public?” 

“I am on a mission to dispel myths about sexual health. People will say a lot of things, but I do not think their negative comments will affect my work,” said Jui.  

Md Faruk Hossain, principal of Gosaiganj School and College told Dhaka Tribune he plans to arrange biweekly or at least monthly sessions on adolescent sexual and reproductive health for his students. 

Jui says the existing misconceptions about sexual health and reproductive rights could be dispelled by proper education and training. It is not something that only concerns female adolescents but also male teenagers. 

One of the beneficiaries of Jui’s training sessions, Md Rokon Islam, a 10th grader, said: “I was in a fix when I experienced my first wet dream. I felt ashamed and thought something was wrong with me. 

“But then I attended the sessions conducted by Jui and learned that it is a natural thing for boys of our age.”

ActionAid Bangladesh and local NGO Udayankur Seba Sangstha (USS) provided all the training and education necessary for Jui to be able to create awareness among her fellow students about the importance of sexual health.

USS Executive Director Alauddin Ali told Dhaka Tribune that there has been rapid progress among Chilahati youth because of Jui’s initiative. 

The ‘Pad Corner’

Jui, as part of her efforts to wipe out taboos surrounding sex education, introduced the “Pad Corner,” which provides sanitary napkins bought from a local female entrepreneur, to female students at her institution for Tk60 only.

Mamtaz Yasmin, vice-principal of Gosaiganj School and College, is in charge of this wonderful project which has brought wide-eyed smiles to the faces of adolescent female students there. 

This initiative which started this year aims to provide these students the hassle-free and safe support women need during menstruation.

“Our school is in a remote area where parents are not really aware of the sexual and reproductive health of their children.

“So here at the Pad Corner, which is in my office, I always keep sanitary napkins so the girls have easy access to them,” Mamtaz said. 

Inspired by Jui’s work, Shahidul Hossain Liton, Bhogdaburi union parishad member, said they have a budget of Tk130,000 to build restrooms and distribute sanitary napkins for free at the Chilahati Senior Fazil Madrasa. 

“Earlier we did not even consider reproductive health important but this group of young people has made us realize the importance of sanitary napkins for the wellbeing of adolescent girls,” Shahidul added.

To date, naysayers have taunted Jui, calling her names like “Pad Apa” and more. But determined Jui is on a mission to educate and make aware, teenagers in her locality, until all prejudices concerning sexual and reproductive health and rights are wiped out from her community.

Asma-Ul-Husna, inspirator at ActionAid Bangladesh, said: “ActionAid Bangladesh is working hard for the capacity development of young people on grass roots level so that they can lead to the future Bangladesh and bring positives changes for society. Jui is one of those bright future leaders who is fighting against the social stigmas and representing women leadership in her community.”