16:05' 08/05/2006 (GMT+7)
At a recent regional workshop on sexuality and sexual well-being, a 20-year-old university graduate from the capital raised a question on how to use condoms.
The query illustrates that Radhika Chandiramani, Executive Director of TARSHI, an Indian NGO funded by the Ford Foundation, was not grossly exaggerating the extent of ignorance prevalent in developing nations on an issue widely debated and researched, but expressed with embarrassment.
Considering that global HIV/AIDS prevention efforts over the past decades relied heavily on the use of condoms, the graduate's question at once raises the spectacle of the Aegean stables while pointing to the necessity for new directions on a subject that has obsessed mankind from the – time when Eve bit that all too innocent apple.
And this, she says, should not exclusively dwell on traditional HIV/AIDS prevention methods but address the deeper issues of sexuality and related problems.
The eight-day workshop, which concluded over the weekend at the Melia, organised jointly by the South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality of TARSHI and The Institute of Social Development Studies (ISDS) in Hanoi was one such effort, she says, pointing to the earlier annual workshops held in India (2005) and Indonesia (2006).
Guided by the vision "that all people have a right to sexual well-being and to a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality," the workshop, which gathered 17 participants and experts from Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, India, ' Nepal and Sri Lanka, "aims to develop a deeper and more coherent theoretical understanding of sexuality and its connections with other issues, like gender and rights, and examine assumptions on which practitioners base their work within a regional context."
ISDS co-director Khuat Thu Hong says, "In the context of Vietnam, awareness is important and people require more confidence to talk about sexual matters. The workshop is a first of its kind being held here and would promote, among other things, scholarships on the subject."
But have these workshops, into their third year in the region, produced any tangible results? "The response has been mixed. As experienced also here at the workshop, participants grasp the concepts fast but the application part is still unequal and takes time," Radhika says.
"Vietnam, for instance, is gradually opening up and on a rapid and steep learning curve when it comes to ideas and awareness. Even conventional categories like housewives are aware of the connections between sexuality and human rights and problems like discrimination arising from conventional prevention and rehabilitation methods, and personally, I feel that gender relations here are not as unequal as in India," she says, pointing to a recent proposal of an Indian state to have mandatory HIV tests before marriage as violative of basic human rights.
The country, meanwhile, faces many challenges, including sex education, increasing awareness of various sexual preferences and employing new methods using latest technologies.
"While the country has done quite a lot of work on HIV/AIDS prevention, much of it is undertaken in a fragmented or compartmentalised manner, like separating hetero-sexual and gay groups. Also, new ideas and concepts of sexuality should fit in with the specific historical and cultural context of the nation," she said.
The participants at the workshop, conducted by an international faculty consisting of Dede Detomo from Indonesia; Douglas Sanders, a law professor from Thailand; and Geeta Mishra from India, will join three other resource centres, set up under the Global Dialogue on Sexual Health and Well-Being's International Sexuality Forum, in the US, Brazil and Nigeria and form global e-groups to continuously monitor and update work and activities in their respective regions.
Next year, the resource centre proposes to hold the workshop in China.
(Source: Viet Nam News)