Sunday, October 1, 2023

Prioritising SRH

The definition of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) found global consensus at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994. At its core is the promotion of reproductive health, voluntary and safe sexual and reproductive choices for individuals and couples, including decisions on family size. Sound reproductive health is integral to the vision that every child is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free from HIV and every girl and woman is treated with dignity. Implicit in this vision is the idea that men and women will be able to exercise their rights to information on and access to safe, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation as well as quality healthcare services. The importance of addressing the SRH needs of young people, particularly in a country like India with its massive youth population, cannot be overstated. The challenges faced by Indian adolescents are not only numerous but also complex, encompassing various aspects of health and development. The hurdles are sometimes social too. Recognising SRH as a critical component of adolescent well-being is crucial, as it has direct linkages to education, gender equality, constructive behaviours ~ and thus has bearing on the outcome of our pursuit of sustainable development goals. In India, the barriers to accessing SRH information, services and products go beyond mere infrastructural and logistical limitations. They are deeply entrenched in societal taboos, stigmas, lack of safe spaces, and a pervasive lack of awareness. This includes Naga society too. Statistics speak volumes: with approximately 16 million teenage pregnancies reported annually in India, it is evident that young men and women are unable to have open discussions about reproductive processes with their parents in over 90% of cases. These young people find themselves caught in a web of restricted access to contraceptives, healthcare resources, and vital information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and abortions. At the heart of the problem lies the social stigma around sex, perpetuated by rampant misinformation and a dearth of open discussions and school-based SRH education. Comprehensive sexuality education, including age-appropriate information, plays a pivotal role in addressing these challenges. It acts as a preventive measure against harmful trends such as school dropouts, child marriage, and gender-based violence. Moreover, it equips girls and boys with the knowledge and skills necessary to overcome barriers that hinder their full participation in public life. Securing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people through comprehensive sexuality education benefits not only women and girls but also wider social and economic spheres. The active and productive participation of adolescents is crucial for sustaining the progress achieved over the years. Investing in comprehensive sexuality education, therefore, goes beyond a mere investment in a generation of young people ~ it is an investment in the future. Empowering healthy adolescents who are knowledgeable about their sexual and reproductive health and rights becomes an accelerator for economic and societal changes, bringing about a significant reduction in harmful practices like child marriage, gender-based violence, and teen pregnancy that hinder social progress. We must also recognise that securing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of both girls and boys requires substantial support from peer groups, families, and communities. Comprehensive sexuality education serves as a catalyst for initiating these crucial conversations, fostering awareness and facilitating an understanding that important life decisions are fundamentally grounded in issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Comprehensive sexuality education should extend beyond the confines of classrooms and permeate different institutions, communities and families. It requires strong support and collaboration across these spaces to ensure the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents are upheld. Prioritising comprehensive sexuality education is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic move towards securing the well-being of young people and society as a whole. By providing the knowledge, skills, and support necessary for healthy decision-making, we empower adolescents to navigate their sexual and reproductive lives with confidence.