Why we need to educate boys and girls about sexuality
Bangladesh has been witnessing an alarming rise in rapes reported, particularly child rape cases. Between April and June, child rape cases increased by 102% from the previous quarter. This makes me wonder whether men are becoming more violent or just switching over to children as they are more vulnerable and easier targets.
For me, it is hard to believe that rape numbers have increased from the past. In a nation where women cannot walk on the streets without being ogled at or groped, the attitude of men towards women has always been lustful and disrespectful.
With the global #metoo movement and increasing awareness by international media against victim-blaming, females are speaking up more against physical abuse. The rise in rape figures might just be a reflection of more women reporting rapes.
The alarming increase in child rapes might also be related to that: As more women are now willing to speak out against violece, innocent children and disabled girls become easy targets as they are easier to silence.
With rape news frequently surfacing in the headlines, there is increased fear-mongering among parents having daughters. This fear-mongering is strongly asserting the point that women need to be scared and on high alert all the time. Women are asked to dress conservatively, stay indoors, not venture out at night, and not travel alone. Women have been practicing these for centuries, and still continue to do so in 2019.
Why should women have to do all this to just be safe? Why isn’t anything done to make sure that women can live their lives freely as they do in Western countries? Instead of telling women to be more careful, why don’t we tell parents and teachers to provide males with appropriate sex education? Why don’t we make sex education compulsory in school curriculum?
The real problem with Bangladesh is that “sex” and “sexuality” are taboo subjects. We can’t talk about it -- we pretend that sex doesn’t exist. People often lack sex education and don’t know how to handle sexuality. A lack of sex education coupled with patriarchal culture leads to sexual frustration, often turning men into monsters.
Instead of solving the real problem whenever rapes occur, we say only one thing: “Be careful girls and parents having girl children, be careful.”
The problem with Bangladesh is that we pretend that people only believe in sex after marriage. Ask any girl in Bangladesh to honestly give her opinion, and she’ll definitely say men are sexually frustrated here. While walking on the streets when women are ogled at and groped by men (even if totally covered), the real patriarchal rape culture that Bangladesh has is made apparent.
Porn has been banned, saying that it goes against Bangladeshi culture. Researchers at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, USA clearly answer the question “Does pornography cause rape?” with a resounding no.
The research points out that men who commit rape and men who don’t commit rape both view pornography. Milton Diamond, the director of the Pacific Centre for Sex and Society at the University of Hawaii, says: “There’s absolutely no evidence that pornography does anything negative.”
Young men in Bangladesh develop in a male-dominated environment with little or no sex education. In rural areas and single-sex schools, there is very little contact with female peers after puberty. Differences in gender roles intensify during adolescence, when boys enjoy new privileges reserved only for men -- such as autonomy, mobility, opportunity, and power, whereas girls have to start enduring restrictions.
Their parents curtail their mobility, monitor their interactions with males, and in some cases, even withdraw them from school. This leads to misdirected masculinity, characterized by male sexual dominance and unequal gender attitudes and behaviour.
This is why Bangladesh is in dire need of comprehensive sexuality education or modules focusing on sexual violence and exploitation awareness. Such lessons can help to empower young people by highlighting women’s changing roles in society. Importantly, they can also provide a safe space to address distorted views of masculinity and create awareness of violence against women.
A comprehensive curriculum-based sexuality module, such as the one launched by Unesco in 2018, can help young boys and girls understand their bodies and the age-related changes better. And it can also teach young people about consent and respecting each others’ personal space.
Sex education should also be a space to learn about menstruation, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases, and risks of pregnancy. Parents should also be involved in this process -- findings from research emphasize the importance of children witnessing positive and equitable gender roles at home.
We are now living in the #metoo era, and many countries around the world, including our neighbouring country India, have decriminalized homosexuality in order to reflect the rapid social change in the country. Yet in Bangladesh, sex and sexuality are taboo subjects.
In 2015, New Zealand released a new curriculum policy document for sexuality education in all schools. This policy is a rare example of a curriculum document that explicitly values diversity and promotes inclusive school environments. Students also need to be taught to critically think and learn about sexuality and all that it encompasses.
Sex education is more than just talking about sexual intimacy. It includes reproductive health, sexually-transmitted diseases, contraceptives, consent, gender identity, gender equality, and self worth -- all of which are important themes when addressing sexual violence.
Maliha Ahmed previously worked in research at BIDS and BIGD. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago.