A Tussle with Taboos

October 9, 2018 IMG_9392
by Sultan Maruf

Hi, I’m Sultan, a student from Bangladesh and a youth activist. Growing up in Bangladesh I have noticed some alarming trends within the society: violence against women, patriarchal attitudes, sexual harassment, unwanted pregnancies, increasing rates of HIV and STIs, sexual assault on LGBTQI people etc. Yet no discussion about these have been made as talking about sex and sexuality still remains a taboo and clandestine issue in Bangladesh with the notion that talking to young people about Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) further encourages them to engage in sexual acts.

The Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) organised a national Training-of-Trainers in Bangladesh from 14-16 August, 2018. This program brought together a diverse group of young activists to discuss issues on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), CSE and intersectionality.

The workshop started with passing of the sexuality ball in which participants were asked to immediately recall words they associate with ‘Sexuality’, ‘Young People’s Sexuality’, as well as ‘Men, Women and LGBTIQ Sexuality’. Different words came to our minds during this activity, which made it clear that sexuality is not static, but diverse, changeable and personal, and that it makes up an important part of who we are.

We also did the privilege walk in which statements were read that required us to step forward or back depending on how it applied to us. Throughout the privilege walk, it was made clear that society privileges some individual and identities over others with some of the less privileged participants left behind from the rest. This activity introduced us to intersectionality and the unfair, and unequal standards by which certain identities are valued within society. This was definitely an eye-opening exercise to all of us.

The world is more diverse and colourful but society intends to make society fall into a binary by insuring everyone identifies as either male or female. Every baby born is declared at birth as ‘it’s a girl!” or a ‘it’s a boy!” when in reality gender and sexuality lies within a diverse spectrum. Sexuality in itself is not simply defined by sexual acts but encompasses various different aspects of our lives. Sexuality is an umbrella term that comprises of gender, sex, gender roles, identities and orientation. And when it comes to gender identity and roles, women are often expected to be emotional, while men are usually expected to be aggressive. But after “Breaking the binary” session we learnt that gender identity is all about how you think and identify about yourself.

The final session of the workshop on microaggression at the workplace was by far the most emotional. A number of heartfelt stories shared during this session had many of us crying, which created further appreciation for others’ identity. This training helped me to deepen my knowledge on CSE and intersectionality and gave me courage to tussle with societal taboos and stigma.

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