The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Awareness alert for facts of life

Instances of incest are far higher than rape, infertility and sexually-transmitted diseases are on the rise, and sex education in schools from age 10 is essential — these were some of the conclusions. The participants were doctors, healthcare professionals, social workers, educators, students and parents, from the UK and USA, to Mumbai and Chennai. And, they’re mostly women.

Women’s Health Initiative in the 21st Century was the theme for the 3rd Central Asia Regional Congress of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA), in Calcutta on November 29 and 30. Held every three years, it was attended by 214 delegates. Established in 1919, the of, for and by women’s organisation has chapters in 75 countries.

At the conference, organised by the Association of Medical Women in India (AMWI), the Indian affiliate of MWIA, the talks ranged from menopause and pregnancy to new drugs in the market and the status of women.

On Saturday, the hot topic of discussion was adolescent sexual health. While the teachers had questions like how to deal with “four-letter words” scribbled on bathroom walls, the youngsters wanted to know how to control “urges”. And mothers felt they had a vital part to play in sex education, but attitudes needed to be changed to “bring the subject out in the open”.

“The unanimous conclusion was to introduce sex education in schools for 10-year-olds,” said Dr Gauri Kunra, gynaecologist and AMWI member. “But society should be bold enough to address these issues.” Agreeing with the sentiment, Shirley Ross, president, MIWA, felt that while the anatomy and physiology are taught in textbooks, the facts of life are not, leaving teenagers confused. “In fact, not all of them know about contraception,” the family physician from Vancouver, Canada, added.

Dr Jayashree Jhaveri from Mumbai felt the social, rather than the medical issues, were more relevant. “There is a need to accept women as equals, not subordinates. One of the speakers mentioned how bringing up a girl child is looked upon as watering someone else’s garden. In fact, studies show that at the birth stage, the boy:girl ratio is almost even. Within five years, the girls’ number drops sharply. Also, abortions are increasing, because unmarried pregnancies are. That’s because of seduction and rejection of young girls.”

The state branch of AMWI also runs the Mission Hospital for Women and Children on AJC Bose Road, where free beds are provided, with surgery and immunisation at minimal costs. It has launched an initiative to provide employment as nurses to daughters of sex workers. A comprehensive training programme, for girls who have passed the secondary exams has been designed.

India still suffers from diseases that have been wiped out from the developed world, observed Ross. “The fact that Fallopian tubes can be damaged by tuberculosis, the instance of which is quite high here, I had never heard of before. Anaemia is very common, and rubella is still prevalent.” Kunra added that while white discharge is the commonest problem for women, the cause is often sexually-transmitted diseases.

MWIA will meet for its three-yearly session in July next year, in Tokyo. The focus areas will be gender and health, mother-to-child HIV/AIDS infection, diabetes and adolescent sexual health.

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