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Shohojogi-AIDS - Message 846

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Name Alok Srivastava
Subject Report on gender and sexual health workshop with adolescent boys in Delhi
Date Tue, 29 Jan 2002 22:04:26 MET
Thread 1 message
Message Subject: Report on gender and sexual health workshop with adolescent boys in Delhi
- Alok Srivastava

Report on gender and sexual health workshop with adolescent boys in Delhi.

Our society recognizes the injustices done to women, but men are seen only as oppressors. It is assumed that they are inherently strong. It is also assumed that they do not have emotions and do not feel pain or hurt. However, rather than being oppressors men are themselves the victims. Behind their numerous masks of masculinity which is imposed on them by the society men have accumulated layers and layers of suppressed emotions, desires, needs, pain and hurt. The perceived notions of masculinity are far removed from how nature created men and act as innumerable and unending pressures on them.
These pressures are felt most acutely during adolescence after which period man comes to terms with them and mostly gives in. But adolescence can make life unbearable for men. One of the ways in which it harms them is by making them vulnerable to contracting diseases like HIV/AIDS and STIs. E.g. adolescent boys (like men of all ages) feel the pressure to prove their masculinity by having sex with girls. This is especially harmful to them because they have very little information about sexuality.

With this situation in the background the YAAR society which works on gender and sexual health of young people and has a separate programme for men, organizes masculinity workshops with young men and adolescents. These workshops also has an information section on sexual health, HIV/AIDS and Sexually transmissible Infections. It recently organized two such workshops with the school students in the north district. Each workshop was of 5 days duration. The participants who were 58 in total were between 16 to 18 years of age. YAAR is also implementing the School AIDS programme of the Delhi State AIDS Control Society in these schools.

The workshop uses games, exercises, focus group discussions and sharing of personal experiences by the boys to educate them about the pressures of male gender and sexual roles (known as masculinity). First level of empowerment comes from knowing that what they are going through is shared by the rest of the boys. From knowing that all men feel vulnerable from inside, that they all have weaknesses, insecurities and emotions. Then there are exercises to help the participants reclaim their suppressed emotions, needs and desires.

To take an example, men have been suppressing emotions for so long that they have lost touch with them. While growing up whenever the boys acted on their impulses they were put down rudely as being ladki or Namard or Chakka or something like that. So much so that they started distrusting their own inner voices. Most men therefore use only their brains but hardly their heart. They think a lot but seldom feel. This is a real setback for them and apart from causing multiple stress related diseases later in life, it also affects their ability to form meaningful relationships in which they can fulfil the emotional needs of their partners or put forth their own emotional needs.

There is an exercise to help the participants reclaim their power to feel. They were asked to make a list of emotions that they could think of. The participants with their own effort came with about 130 such words. They were themselves amazed at so many emotions being available to them. All through the five days they were encouraged to share how they felt. They were helped to pinpoint their exact feelings rather than being vague about them like I feel fine or good or bad. It was a powerful experience for the participants.

Men usually do not confide about their weaknesses and vulnerabilities in another person especially another man. This is because they have an immense pressure to appear strong. There is something that we call the race for manhood, which exists amongst all men. There is a cruel sense of competition amongst men and the slightest sign of weakness would mean that the person will be pushed to the ground by other men. During the workshop the boys learned to support each other rather than compete and pull down. They learned to develop a supportive environment where they felt more and more safe to talk about their inner most feelings and vulnerabilities. Here are some of the things they shared.

One participant narrated how he had a keen interest in music but decided against taking it up as a subject when he saw how another boy in his class who took music as a subject was treated by the rest of the guys. They called this other guy a sissy for taking up such a girly subject and the person is still continuously harassed. Incidentally, this participant had a bully image in his class which was imposed by his friend against his will, who often pressurized him to accompany him in fighting brawls with gangs of boys. Another boy narrated how he was made to feel small by his peers when on a bus journey they asked him to prove his manhood by sitting next to a girl. This participant was rather reluctant and was called names like napunsak (impotent) by his peers. Two boys narrated incidents of another boy in their class who did not want to eve-tease while going back home with other boys. The other boys often tease him and call him Chakka and other such names. The pressures that boys felt included the pressure to earn, to be strong, aggressive, to smoke, eve-tease, get into physical brawls, and so on.

The biggest pressure that the participants felt had to do with sex. Male sexual roles treat them as sex machines. And rather as objects god created to serve (satisfy) women sexually. They are supposed to have enormous sexual drive for women. They feel this pressure acutely during their late teens. There was continuous pressure from other boys to show a lot of interest in girls, even to have sex with them to prove that they are real men. Boys, who have sex with girls, or claim that they have had it, treated the other boys with contempt and often used words like Chakka to exert peer pressure on them. Nothing hurts a man more than being called a namard, or a non-man.
The pressure regarding sex continues all through a man s life. He is expected to perform and satisfy his woman to be called a man. Men develop a number of insecurities and sexual dysfunction owning to performance anxiety.

Other important aspect of male sexual roles that came out was that while they were expected to exaggerate their sexual interest in girls on the one hand, they felt pressurized to suppress their sexual feelings towards other men. It was empowering for the boys to see that almost all boys felt attraction for other men - some more, some less and they all had similar insecurities about the issue. It was also heartening to see one of the boys who in the initial days was exerting pressure on the other guys by continuously talking about having sex with girls remark that he was afraid to show his attraction for other boys lest he was dubbed a Chakka or a homo. It became clear that the society deliberately creates an image that ascribes sexual attraction for other males as a feminine quality fit only for effeminate men. This is all that is needed to make men struggle with these feelings.

The exercises on peer-pressure were especially empowering for the boys. They were asked to do a role-play on a situation they had observed in real life where someone is being harassed through peer-pressure. Both the groups picked up similar situations where the rest of the guys pressurized the victim for not wanting to chase girls. After only the first exercise to identify the problem of peer-pressure the boys already felt empowered to deal with it. But they wanted more exercises to help them develop skills to deal with peer-pressure. We promised to give them more such exercises in future workshops but we did not have any more at the time. We assured them that the knowledge that they are going to acquire during the workshop would go a long way in empowering them to deal with it.

Towards the end we conducted a secret voting exercise where they were asked to identify on a scale of 1 to 10, how much pressure they felt had been taken off their chest from the time they entered the workshop room for the first time five days ago. The values they gave were between 6 to 10, with most people voting 8 or 9. A similar voting though this time not secret, at the request of the participants to identify on a scale of 1 10 on how much they felt their life had changed during the workshop pointed to values between 5 and 9, with most participants voting 6 or 7.

It was indeed a heartening experience to see young males learning to care and support for each other rather than being forced to run each other down. They had shared such a lot about themselves that they had never even dreamed was possible. They drew such strength from the process that they wanted to come again and again. And we promised we would do that. They were sad about leaving a group they had formed an emotional bonding with. They wanted two more things. First was rather na´ve -- that such workshops be organized by the government in every school. Second was that they wanted to spread this awareness themselves amongst their peers and others. Their teachers had warned us that it would be foolish to expect them to sit through five long days from 10 am to 6 pm that too during dussehara holidays. If only they could see their faces as they were leaving.

Another positive outcome of the workshop had to do with sexual health education for the adolescents. It was felt that this should not be called sex-education because it gives an impression that they are being taught to do sex which is not the case. In fact the workshop helped them understand (and to some degree accept) their own sexual feelings and get information on sexual health. Thus Gender and Sexual health or adolescent health education was considered a better name. It was also felt that names like family health education were far too removed from the issues that need to be covered and in fact reflected the hesitation of the adults to talk about sexual health with adolescents.

Another thing, and this is quite interesting, was that the participants who were sexually active (according to their own estimates app. 25% of the boys in their schools are sexually active) felt at the end of the workshop that it was not worth it to enter into sexual activities early on in life. They also felt that it can affect their ability to form committed relationships in the future. Some felt that it is difficult for them to stop it since its now a part of their life. But they were definitely going to adopt safer-sex practices. For the rest of the boys, they felt that talking about their sexual issues has taken a lot of sexual tension off their minds and they felt empowered to delay sex till they are emotionally, mentally and physically mature to handle it.

Address for communication with YAAR:
Contact person: Alok Srivastava
323/B, J&K Pocket, Dilshad Garden, Delhi-110 095
Phone: (91) (011) 2270071
Forwarded by Avinash Jolly of [loveandaids]

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