In September 2020, India witnessed a radical change in its education policy that will, in the next 10-20 years, shape the schools and colleges of our nation. The merits of the New Education Policy, by all means, are debatable. However, one thing that people could not help but notice was the blatant absence of comprehensive and inclusive sex education in the brand new curriculum.
The new policies are said to be tailored to cater to the modernised needs of a 21st-century child. Despite this claim, sex education is still considered to be too outrageous to be taught to school-going children. It seems policymakers assume that sex education, simply put, is to teach ‘how to have sex’. What they don’t understand is that this area of study is profoundly intertwined with how citizens of this country will interpret sexuality and relationships in the future.
And when sex education is brought up as a major talking point, one must not forget about consent as a very necessary concept that needs to be taught to children at an early age.
So, what is consent? Consent is not rocket science. It is especially not very difficult to understand if one is sensitised about the same from a young and impressionable age. Consent is an agreement. When two people engage in a personal act like sex, both must be comfortable in partaking in that act. Consensual sex is sex without an underlining essence of coercion or manipulation.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that India perpetually suffers from a ‘rape epidemic’. In October, the NCRB published in a report which found that 88 rapes take place every day in India on an average. Additionally, crimes related to sexual offences are gravely underreported. These are not hollow numbers – behind each count of this data is a woman, mentally traumatised and physically violated of her rights, her safe space disrespected and snatched away.
Sexual assault is often used by a man as a tool to “show a woman her place”. It is a means to abuse power and reinstate a highly toxic hierarchy in society. This attitude, undoubtedly, stems from the deep-rooted problematic interpretations about what defines masculinity.
What if we took a step back from the usual victim-blaming, and perhaps raised our sons better? People, specifically those whose personalities and ideologies are riddled with misogyny and sexism, will debate this noble approach. But they will not be able to dismiss this idea if they were shown a real-life success story.
No Means No Worldwide is an organisation which started in Kenya that has entirely devoted its efforts and resources towards one aim: the prevention of rape. In 2009, a team for a rape awareness was set up by Lee Paiva, the founder of No Means No. She curated and began implementing a violence and sexual assault prevention system called IMpower.
“Girls learn to identify risk, say ‘no’ and talk their way out of trouble. If that ‘no’ is not respected, they also learn physical skills to back it up. Boys learn to challenge rape myths, ask for consent and intervene if they anticipate or witness predatory behaviour,” their official website reads.
So, is rape preventable? The statistics prove that it could be.
Many might dismiss these efforts. In a world where we hear of a brutal and horrendous rape every single day, it becomes easy to lose hope and become cynical. But one must acknowledge how these “consent classes” are bringing about unimaginable changes. The IMpower team has reached out to and educated more than 300,000 school-going children. In Kenya and Malawi alone, the occurrence of rape has reduced by a whopping 47%.
Such classes are picking up speed elsewhere too. In 2019, it was reported that about two-thirds of all UK universities have consent awareness classes and workshops on campus.
We come across many men who blame the rape victim for the clothes they was wearing, or for their being out late at night – again putting the onus on women to be safe and not on men to not be rapists. There are some who would go as far as to say that “girls must be taught a lesson” for doing anything that may seem to be out of the bounds for someone with the patriarchy ingrained in them.
Such a perception can only be changed over time and with education.
IMpower by No Means No Worldwide adopts a progressive and holistic strategy wherein instructors “teach girls mental, verbal and physical skills to prevent sexual assault”. Boys are taught to respect and practice consent, intervene when they witness a predator abuse a woman and debunk the stereotypes owing to the rape culture that are seeded early on in the lives of children.
In India, a considerable mass of our citizenry is entirely unaware about a concept such as consent. Rape has been normalised to a point that India is fast becoming no country for womxn. A wholesome class on consent in school can teach girls, boys and others alike about how to create a healthy space for all genders in society. We need to introduce classes on gender sensitivity and sexuality awareness in order to change the conversation for good.
Protesting against the systematic oppression of womxn, caste and religious minorities and other communities is crucial. However, no sturdy solutions will come out of the movement if we are all just enraged at the system. Our objection towards rape shouldn’t be restricted to the duration of sensationalism around a rape case in mainstream media. Introducing consent, positive masculinity and sex-positive concepts at the school-level could hopefully bring the change we so desperately need to see.
Ritika Sahay is a student of media at Manipal Institute of Communication.