Partners in protection
Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury is always good for that snappy riposte or nifty sound bite. So her advice to women that they should not trust men or their husbands has created a stir. Yes, the minister is right, women should protect themselves by ensuring that they have condoms at hand. But how feasible is this, given the restrictions women face in our society? How many women have access to condoms? Even if they have, how many are able to negotiate the use of these with their partners? “If you believe that men will be careful, then you can forget about protecting yourself,” the minister says. But the answer to more protection for women would be to involve men as equal partners in matters of reproductive health. The onus cannot be solely on the woman. HIV/Aids is not gender-specific. Both men and women have a stake in ensuring that the virus is checked.
The minister is on track when she blasts those opposed to sex education in schools. We can no longer pretend that our cultural superiority will protect us from HIV/Aids or other forms of sexually transmitted diseases. In a society like India’s, it is still men who make reproductive health choices like the number of children a family should have or what contraception should be used. That is why sterilisation for women is still the norm in rural India.
Men must be made aware that by using condoms, they are protecting themselves from disease and guarding against causing unwanted pregnancies. As the former HRD minister’s reaction to sex education shows, sex is still taboo. When it comes to sex, questions are swept under the carpet by both parents and teachers. In that context, it is heartening that Ms Chowdhury and Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss have taken the lead in bringing this issue out into the open. Let’s hope more decision-makers follow suit.