This post is the third in a series of eight stories by young Bangladeshis that illustrates the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the youth-led CSO report for Bangladesh’s Universal Periodic Review. These stories were collected by ARROW and Dance4Life. Photo is used for representation only. Read the first part here, and the second part here.
During a satellite session of the Unite for Body Rights (UBR) alliance, a female physician observed a young man standing in the corner, staring off into space. After some time, she called him over and asked whether he was at the session for any particular reason, and if he had any questions.
“Yes madam, I do,” he replied. “My name is Manik, and I am 24 years old. For a while now something has been bothering me, and I have been trying to talk to a doctor about it.” He hesitated, and then said, “but I feel uncomfortable discussing the matter with you as you are a lady doctor.”
“You should not feel embarrassed to talk about your concerns with me,” the physician replied, assuring him that his confidentiality will be preserved.
With that, Manik – a young man out of school – then started explaining in a subdued tone:
“Madam, there are lesions growing on my penis. It hurts really badly when I urinate. I constantly feel the urge to urinate, but whenever I try to, I can’t. There is a pus-like discharge from my penis. The pain is so severe that at times I feel like I am dying. This pain is unbearable and I am very worried. Please help me, save me from this pain.”
After listening to everything Manik had to say, the doctor replied, “Don’t worry. You will be fine.”
She then asked him whether he was sexually active or not, to which he replied that he was not married. The physician told Manik that people who are sexually active are not necessarily only married couples – many people who are single have sex too. Sensing some hesitation, she told him that it will be easier for her to advise him correctly if he tells the truth, and reassured him that whatever he would tell her will be kept confidential.
Finally, Manik said, “Madam, you are a doctor… so I shall tell you the truth. I used to have sex almost regularly with a woman I know. I began to have the lesions since I started having sex with her.”
Afterwards, Manik was given the necessary counselling and was asked to do a pathology test. The report of the test confirmed that Manik was suffering from STI.
As we have mentioned in previous stories, the gaps existing in comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in school curriculum due to existing stigma and reluctance of teachers to discuss sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues makes young people like Manik more vulnerable to risky behaviours (such as unprotected sex), causing a negative impact on their reproductive health and rights to a detrimental extent. Explicit prohibition of premarital sexual intercourse means that young people are less likely to be forthcoming with their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues, for fear of “embarrassment” and judgement from their peers, discouraging open discussions about STIs and HIV/AIDS.
Recommendations for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR
The Government should introduce programmes to ensure teachers and educators are sensitised and trained to effectively implement CSE in educational institutes, and develop a curriculum that is done through a consultative process engaging women, girls, young people, parents, teachers and CSOs to ensure that the CSE curricula covers SRHR issues comprehensively and to ensure progressive content. Skill-building in home science and physical education content should be rights-based rather than perpetuating gender stereotypes and stigmatisation.
Manik’s condition could have turned critical if treatment was not given in time. He was given the necessary medicines and was counselled on the use of contraceptives. He was told about how condoms don’t only protect from unintended pregnancies but also protects from STIs.
When he went back to see the physician after his experience, he simply said:
“Madam, I am cured now.”
ARROW collaborated with the Right Here Right Now Bangladesh Platform (RHRN-BD) and the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) to submit a youth-led CSO report in October 2017 for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR. The report focused on the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Bangladesh. For the first time in the country’s UPR process, a CSO report has been developed through engagement of young Bangladeshis through a collective process. Read the report here!