Though young people in India are more educated and empowered than in the past, there is still a lack of information related to sexual and reproductive health. More and more people are using technology to bridge this gap.
Young people make up a huge part of the population in India. There are 315 million young people between the ages of 12-24 years who make up 30 percent of India’s population. Though these young people are more educated, healthier, and more urbanized than previous generations, they still face problems. Most troubling is their lack of knowledge in terms of sexual and reproductive health.
Researchers and groups like Population Council, report that, “These young people face significant risks related to sexual and reproductive health, and many lack the knowledge and power they need to make informed sexual and reproductive health choices,” Population Council reports.
The YP Foundation
One young woman, Ishita Chaudhry, has been addressing this problem since 2002 when she began the Youth Parliament, at the age of 17. Also known as the YP Foundation, the acclaimed group designs and implements community-based youth projects, providing funds for people between the ages of 13 through 28 years to create projects related to socio-cultural, economic, legal and environmental issues.
One of the most important subjects the YP Foundation has focused on, however, is reproductive rights and sexuality. AIDS, for example, is especially problematic for the world’s youth, reports UNAIDS. The Geneva-based organization says people worldwide between the ages of 12-24 years account for four of each ten new AIDS cases. Also, (mirroring findings from Population Council, above) this age group has very little knowledge about the disease and its transmission. That’s not all. Young people are often “left to fend for themselves,” regarding all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, said Dr. Robert Carr, the Associate Director of the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations.
Spreading information with technology
The internet is a natural choice to disseminate this information. “If you’re looking at issues of sexually reproductive rights and health,” says Ishita Chaudry in a video interview (below), “then it becomes clear to provide a space where young people can continue conversations once they’ve finished community based interactions and workshops.” Because so many of India’s youth are online, it makes sense that this community is an online one. Moreover, young people can access it whenever they like and anonymously, if they like.
In this video Ishita Sharma and Ishita Chaudry speak about the YP Foundation’s online work.
Though the Internet provides a forum for discussion about change, the YP Foundation also attempts to create communities in the non-digital world as well. One of the organization’s major initiatives is Project 19 which trains young people in New Delhi to become peer facilitators in order to lead discussions and workshops on topics that are often considered too sensitive, like gender, sexuality, reproductive rights and HIV/AIDs.
In a post on the YP Foundation blog, Ishita Chaudry sums up some reasons the initiative got underway.
Why as society, are we so scared to address any kind of sexuality education or rights cohesively? What stops us from giving people complete rather than half baked information that is critical and live saving and that can protect them from disease, empowers them to be informed individuals and that teach them to be respectful to their own needs and desires and to be respectful towards the rights of others as well?
…We have had too many years of awkward silences and far too many generations of people who have grown up not being given the opportunity to speak out about their thoughts, fears, expressions and questions.
Project 19 Annual Festival
In conjunction with Project 19, the YP Foundation also organizes (with a variety of other groups) the Project 19 Annual Festival, bringing over 600 at risk and marginalized group and urban youth from around India to Delhi. These young people, whose members range from truck drivers to sex workers, lobby and discuss how to tackle issues ranging from collective rights to sexual reproductive rights and health.
As the Daily Indian newspaper explains:
Using various mediums like art, music, theatre and dance, the festival will provide a platform to the young men and women as well as the vulnerable groups to bring forth their experience-based opinion on different issues and form a network so as to solve some of the problems together.
I am a singer/songwriter and Global Voices author currently residing in the Pacific.