Based on presentation delivered at the Advocacy for Comprehensive Sexuality Education meeting, October 2015, Washington D.C.
The case of advancing India’s ‘Udaan’ programme shows what happens when states reject national programming for adolescents. In this difficult context, there is no way to work around heavy opposition – the only way is to work through it.
Thus, CSE advocates in India embarked on extensive consultations with stakeholders in order to garner the credibility and acceptability the programme deserved. Although holding consultations and seeking support from diverse and previously opposed stakeholders was an arduous task, advocates have reached the stage at which the CSE programme is ready to be handed over to government.
Getting to this point was not straightforward or easy. For example, while the content, recommended methodology and focus of Udaan is modelled on a CSE framework, the strategic decision was made to refer to the programme as ‘Adolescent Education’. Even with this name change, advocates faced media attack under the slogan “the people are dying of malaria and the government is serving sex”. This is a common opposition tactic, which seeks to create a hierarchy between key issues, denying their interconnectedness.
What really made the difference in this instance was that the government posted replies to the backlash and defended the programme through a series of calm and considered clarifications. This response worked with the media, and as a result, journalists who were formerly on the attack were converted to supporters, and started using a new tag line, “giving information to young people is not wrong”. Among the key lessons drawn from this advocacy, when faced with a media smear campaign, it pays to remain calm, be transparent, remove the conversation from the realm of the sensational, and support your champions to stay strong in the face of negative press. It is also crucial to sensitize all stakeholders, including the media.
There is benefit to being totally transparent with the curriculum, making it available to all who wish to see it. If we really believe these programmes make a positive difference to young people’s lives, we should not be afraid to engage in conversations around content, be transparent about the curriculum, field the questions and stand by the programme.
Author: VINITA NATHANI, CENTRE FOR CATALYZING CHANGE