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Hopes for better sex education in Pakistan

(Photo: DFID, CC-BY-SA: School in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan)
(Photo: DFID, CC-BY-SA: School in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan)

Could the advent of sex education for the girls of a village in southern Pakistan be a sign of changing attitudes in the country as a whole?

In Johi village in the Sindh province of Pakistan, teachers have started teaching their female students about sex. Poor rural areas like this are usually some of the most conservative and, up until now, sex education has been unheard of. Despite being shy, the 700 girls enrolled at the 8 schools run by the Village Shadabad Organisation are quickly taking in the messages that they are taught in class.

The lessons range from discussions of puberty to classes on marital rape, which remains legal in Pakistan. Akbar Lashari, head of the Village Shadabad Organisation, tells the Guardian newspaper that these classes are important because sex is a topic no one wants to talk about in Pakistan. However, she could not close her eyes to the issue and believes that all girls should be well informed about this important part of life.

From the community

Though the schools were funded by a nearby multinational mining company, the idea and the impetus for their foundation came directly from the village. All parents are fully informed about the lessons and the subjects that they cover, and there has been no opposition from anyone in the community. In a country where public discussions of sex are generally taboo, the fact that no one has objected to these classes is somewhat surprising.

This seems to be part of a wider trend in Pakistani society, one which is open to more publicly available information about sex and sexual health. Arshad Javed tells the Guardian that he sells around 7,000 sex education books a year, though none have been bought by schools. Equally, the prestigious Beaconhouse chain of private schools is keen to integrate it into their curriculum and, before they were stopped by the government, it was already being taught at an elite Lahore grammar school.

Entrenched resistance

This is not to say that everyone is in favour of introducing sex education for children. The education minister for the Sindh province, Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, is strongly opposed to it being taught to girls, regardless of whether the school is private or public. Mirza Kashif Ali, president of the all Pakistan Private Schools Federation, is also against it, and is quoted by the Guardian as saying that "it is against our constitution and religion". It is therefore unlikely that it will be taught in any of the schools the federation represents – of which there are more than 152,000 – or at other schools in Sindh province in the near future.

Despite Ali's remarks, Tahir Ashrafi, leader of the Pakistan Ulema council alliance of moderate clerics, states that sex education is allowed under Islamic law. He says that as long as it is done within certain conditions, such as being lead by female teachers, then it does not contravene sharia law. The future is far from clear, but attitudes towards sex education amongst very different sections of Pakistani society seem to be shifting in its favour.

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