#FirstStoryPositive: 20-year-old from UP is educating her mates about sexuality, reproductive & menstrual health

In 2019, Jyoti walked in the path with Yeh Ek Soch (YES) Foundation, by heading a community mobilisation for a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program.

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20-year-old, Jyoti Vishwakarma who is currently pursuing B.A Honours from a district college in Barabanki has shown the courage to talk and remove shame around the topic that is considered taboo in Indian society. This young girl has taken the initiative to educate adolescents and young women about sexual education, the only woman in her community to do so. 

Jyoti says, “I have not only gained more knowledge on the subject but have also begun to appreciate the importance of decision making and the significance of human rights." 

She lives with her family on the outskirts of the city in the Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh. 

There are no Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics (AFHC) in Barabanki, thus, she decided to embark on this journey to make young people aware of their sexuality. 

In 2019, Jyoti walked in the path with Yeh Ek Soch (YES) Foundation, by heading a community mobilisation for a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) program. It was a curriculum-based event that was to be conducted with 40 young girls and adolescents. The main purpose of the program was to educate them extensively on sexuality and Jyoti took the charge when other members of the group were reluctant to take on such an awkward role. 

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"In my first session with the participants, I was told that this is something they would know when they got married. This struck me as problematic. I discussed with them one of the most important aspects of any action – Consent, and this changed everything. Through the course of the program, they came to realize the issue with others taking their life decisions for them and expecting them to passively accept the decisions,” Jyoti said. 

For the first time, Jyoti stayed away from her family for two days to participate in a residential training with YES in Lucknow. She was unsure and hardly spoke during the sessions. However, eventually when questions started unfolding and after several rounds of discussion, she finally passed it and came out as a master trainer. 

She said, "It was not something I had known earlier, and it takes time to unlearn what we have been taught for so long. We don't even have a washroom and here we are talking about dignity."

Not surprisingly, Jyoti had to face a lot of negative counters in the beginning sessions. A family well-wisher had once called her mother, expressing her concerns about Jyoti’s work and how she needs to be taken control of. However, all these backlashes didn’t affect her parents and they always stood by her side and supported her in her work. Her father made the so-called well-wishers understand the importance of people knowing their rights as this would help them lead a proper life. 

After constant workshops and mentoring carried by YES conducted in partnership with ComMutiny and vartaLeap -  both actively working towards mainstreaming youth-centric development, Jyoti learned tons of things, including making sanitary napkins at home. She also shared the skill with other girls in her community. 

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Just like any other rural region, Jyoti’s community too has myths and stereotypes linked with Menstrual Health and a scarcity of sanitary products. Discussing Menstrual Hygiene Management was taboo, but gradually things began to change slowly when Jyoti started conducting sessions. 

Slowly girls started to demand sanitary napkins, more discussions on menstruation and got their mothers involved in creating wider awareness. With all this, they are now able to break the age-old myths. 

With the help of Jyoti’s direction, about 20 girls in the community could switch to cotton sanitary napkins and knew the correct way to use them. When Covid hit their community, Jyoti didn’t stop educating about gender violence, Consent, Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships and Sexually Transmitted Infections/ Reproductive Tract Infections (STI/RTI).

Jyoti recently finished her curriculum and wants to go on spreading awareness relating to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. She aims to make the system strong around RKSK and bring more youth to work for providing sanitary products and other services. 

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She wants more boys and girls to understand how thor body works and the rights they have so that they can defeat any problems they face in the future. Along with engaging young people in campaigns to disseminate awareness among boys and girls.

“I also want to construct a washroom, the need for which I realized only when I went on this journey,” added Jyoti.