New Delhi: The third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-III) shows that significant proportions of all married women have experienced physical and sexual violence perpetrated by their husbands. But as a recent study shows, many of the young men, who could be termed as `marital rapists’, are in need of basic information about sexuality.
But how can they go about it? Cultural taboos, religious fundamentalism, and a lack of access to information and services impede informed choices. These problems pose a challenge not just to India but to many countries in Asia and the Pacific.
Can some of the issues be addressed by expanding and empowering the sexual and reproductive health and rights movement? While experts agree that this is necessary, they say that equalizing sexual relationships in the context of gender and sexual diversity is equally important.
This is why the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSH) has chosen ‘New Frontiers in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights’ as its theme.
The conference, being held in Hyderabad from October 29-31, 2007, will bring together more than 1200 participants including NGOs, government officials, donors, UN representatives, media persons and parliamentarians to discuss issues related to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights.
Besides union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who will inaugurate the conference, other important speakers will be the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director, who will deliver the keynote address and Gill Greer, IPPF Director General, who will speak on the journey from Cairo to Hyderabad.
Dr Baige Zhao, Vice Minister, National Population and Family Planning Commission, The Peoples Republic of China, and Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State, Women and Child Development will address the first plenary session on ‘Implementing sexual and reproductive rights: an unfinished agenda’.
According to Poonam Muttreja, co-chair, international steering committee, 4th APCRSH, it is appropriate that the conference is being held in India because the greatest challenges in this area have emerged from Asia. Therefore, the conference aims to develop new strategies for future research and programming on the sex ratio imbalance in Asia, addressing unmet reproductive needs of young women, making pregnancy safe and wanted through more expanded, informed choices in services and the need for a renewed political and economic commitment.
A huge number (921) of research abstracts were received from 42 countries. Saroj Pachauri, chair, scientific committee, 4th APCRSH, says these were reviewed by 72 professionals from 15 countries. Finally, 343 abstracts were accepted; 182 for oral and 161 for poster presentations.
The rapid fertility decline and demographic transition experienced in most of Asia has been accompanied by heightened discrimination against girls. It is manifested through prevailing pre-natal sex selection and female feotecide resulting in increased sex ratio imbalance. Son-preference, the combination of traditional methods of neglect of girls and misuse of modern technology, urbanization, rising educational levels and standard of living has lead to an increasing deficit of young girls across the region, often so in the affluent sections of the populations.
The social well-being of any country can be assessed by its sex-ratio. Skewed sex ratios at birth have already resulted in a demographic gap in parts of China and in India, with the far reaching consequences, including growing violence against women and girls, bride trafficking and early marriages. Despite legislative responses, recent available data shows that the practice persists and its spill-over effects are impacting neighbouring countries too.
A recent study by Rajib Acharya and Shireen J Jejeebhoy of the Population Council shows that women who were forced into sex were significantly more likely than other women to have experienced SRH problems. The study, which is to be presented at the 4th APCRSH, finds that women who were beaten are almost twice as likely as those who were not beaten to report SRH problems.
Gender based violence is not limited to India alone. Presenters from countries like Indonesia, Afghanistan, Nepal and Thailand will talk about the situation in their countries.
There will be special focus on young people and adolescents keeping in mind that about 700 million adolescents (10-19 years) live in Asia. Not only are their numbers large but they are experiencing rapid changes in attitudes and expectations in a fast-changing world. Therefore, developing programmes to address their SRH needs poses a major challenge, says Sunil Mehra, co chair, India Organising Committee.
In India there has been considerable debate on the relevance and importance of sex education in schools. Sexuality does not operate in isolation says Radhika Chandiramani, director, Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI), a NGO working on the issues of sexuality. Chandiramani, who will chair a satellite session on ` More than Pleasure: New Issues in Affirming Sexuality in Asia, says sexuality intersects with gender, class, caste, religion, economics, the law, culture, and many other variables and is implicated in broader structures of power.
TARSHI, which has been running a telephone helpline on sexuality since 1996, has responded to more than 59,000 calls. Most callers say they want to know about basic facts like sexual anatomy and physiology, underlining the need for the introduction of comprehensive sexuality education in the school curriculum says Chandiramani.
The 4th APCRSH hopes to enable educationists and thinkers to get a wider regional and international perspective on the subject.
Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) is seen as central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals too. In this context, the integration of family planning, HIV/AIDS and SRH as envisioned at ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994) is fundamental. The conference will discuss how these goals can be achieved despite constraints of funding, organizational barriers, and limited training opportunities for health service providers.
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