Girls in rural Pakistan are receiving groundbreaking sex education lessons from the Village Shadabad Organization. These lessons range from topics of puberty, sex, marital rape, menstruation, marriage, human rights and self-defense against attackers. These sex education lessons are being taught alongside normal education curriculum in eight different girls schools, which are funded by BHP Billiton, an Australian company.
Lessons on menstruation and puberty teach girls not to be ashamed by their own body, and lessons on marital rape explain that unwilling marital sex is a crime. The girls are taught to scream and fight if they are touched inappropriately, because their bodies are owned by no one but themselves. Uzma Panhwar, a 10-year-old student, declares “My body is only mine and only I have the rights on it.”
These lessons teach girls about their body, and about their sexual health. With greater knowledge and awareness of their bodies and their rights, girls can gain confidence and strike away feelings of guilt and shame thrust upon them by their conservative patriarchal society.
In a country where public discourse on sex is forbidden, these lessons are even more meaningful and relevant for these young girls. It is estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of Pakistan’s women have experienced domestic abuse. Women in Pakistan experience high rates of sexual and domestic violence, fighting against a justice system that favors their male attackers. Both law enforcement and government officials have proved to be unresponsive towards violence against women.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranked Pakistan as 135th in the world due to its gender inequality. Pakistan has a history of honor killings, child marriages and violence against women. Although the country is making progress in women’s education, women still have little representation in their own government.
The families in these rural villages support sex education, but there are many others in Pakistan, especially from the education sector, who oppose it due to constitutional and religious reasons. The education minister for the Sindh province and the president of All Pakistan Private School Federation have opposed these sex education lessons in the rural villages.
These sex education lessons are important in providing a foundation for female empowerment in Pakistan. While reform and increased legislation on women’s rights from the government will be slow to create change, these lessons in rural villages are impacting transformation of social norms at the local level.
Women’s empowerment has been shown to not only combat poverty, but to promote development and greater well-being. Teaching these young girls in Pakistan to take control over their bodies also teaches them to take control of their own lives. These sex education lessons do not merely educate them about their bodies, it teaches them to respect themselves, and to demand the respect they deserve from their society and government.
– Sarah Yan