Need of Hour: Reforms for Comprehensive Sex Education in Pakistan

By: Bakhtawar Ahmed

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The year 2024 holds the possibility of transformation for Pakistan, not just in the political arena with the upcoming General Elections but also in the lives of its 106 million citizens, who will be exercising their voting rights.

However, behind the curtains lies a pressing concern that demands urgent attention to tackle the alarming rise in gender-based violence and child abuse cases. 

As the nation stands on the cusp of change, a critical issue emerges, the urgent need for comprehensive sex education.

The taboo culture:

In Pakistan, the mere mention of the word “sex” or discussions about reproductive rights often send shockwaves through societal circles.

This taboo culture has resulted in a visible gap in knowledge, particularly among the younger generation, leading to an increase in cases of sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), and reproductive health issues.

While the numbers are staggering, a report by Sahil, a non-profit organization advocating for the protection of children, revealed that twelve children fell victim to sexual abuse every day in the first half of 2023. 

Sharing more insights on the subject, Barkat Ali Ansari, a provincial project coordinator for Sahil, discussed different methods of promoting sex education through their services.

He said that the NGO has developed various initiatives such as ‘Good Touch and Bad Touch’ and the animated story ‘Hamari Hifazat’ to promote sex education in schools and other educational institutions

“Our campaigns received positive response from young students in schools as they quickly picked up the message and learned the steps to protect themselves,” Ansari said, adding that it was tough to convince parents and teachers to promote sex education.

While Ansari stressed the urgency to promote sex education in schools, he expressed disappointment in the government as it has not yet added comprehensive sex education to the national curriculum.

Awareness on Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRH&R):

The lack of awareness regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRH&R) further widens existing disparities in access to reproductive healthcare. 

Women, in particular, are burdened by societal pressures, often forced them to believe that discussing their sexual health is shameful, resulting in delayed medical attention for serious conditions.

Moreover, in the absence of comprehensive sex education, the concept of “consent” remains elusive, contributing to the perpetuation of unhealthy relationships and abuse. Anonymous voices in society echo the sentiment that while sex education is crucial, it must be approached with caution, ensuring age-appropriate and culturally sensitive content. 

Adeela Akmal, a seasoned journalist, sheds light on the issue and said that the deep-rooted taboos

hinder the education of young adults about this sensitive aspect of their lives.

She also noted that lack of sex education leaves young adults with no alternative but to turn to the internet for information. “Youngsters often make unrealistic depictions of sexual activities as shown in pornography.This not only distorts their expectations but can also lead to dangerous situations for both individuals involved,” she said,

Adeela also highlighted that “in our society where regular health checkups are considered unusual and discussions about sexual well-being are held in close circles only.”

Expressing her thoughts on the absence of sex education, she identified the issue as a potential contributor to violence, as individuals, especially men, struggle to process their emotions, leading to an abuse of power. 

Adeela stressed the need for early counseling and sex education to break the cycle of violence rooted in societal norms.

Education expert, Najma Jameel, emphasized the importance of sex education in enabling young people to make informed decisions about their sexual health, understand consent, and foster healthy relationships. Yet, the ground reality remains in contrast to this ideal.

On the healthcare front, Dr. Hafsa Dayo, an internal medicine resident at Dr. Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital of Karachi, said, “Sex education plays a pivotal role in raising a deep understanding of sexuality and, importantly, in preventing sexual violence and exploitation.”

She stressed that comprehensive sex education is important and added, “Otherwise youngsters who lack accurate information about their bodies and sexual health, may face health risks such as sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies.”

Fatima Azhar, a content creator and a young mother, reflected on the generational ignorance surrounding sex education. She highlighted how girls, in particular, lack essential knowledge about menstruation, and boys receive even less information. 

“The absence of sex education doesn’t mean people are oblivious to these matters; instead, it pushes them towards misinformation on the internet and porn, creating a cycle of blurred boundaries and health issues.”

Fatima stressed that the lack of sex education has contributed to incidents of child abuse in the country.

She noted that breaking the silence around these critical topics is not just a matter of education but a necessity for the well-being of individuals and the nation as a whole.

The alarming crises of gender-based violence, child abuse, and reproductive health issues in Pakistan stress the urgent need for comprehensive sex education in schools and educational institutes. 

While it is crucial to integrate age-appropriate and culturally sensitive sex education into schools, the government and policymakers may also take initiatives such as targeted programs for parents and teachers to further emphasize the role of sex education in child development.

Bakhtawar Ahmed is a freelance writer. Available on email: bakhtawarahmed03@gmail.com

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