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Sexuality and Disability India

  /  Workshops   /  My Body   /  Honouring each other’s truths
5 women sit around a table. One sits in a wheelchair. Another woman stands at the front talking to them.

Honouring each other’s truths

This is first in a series on our #sexdis workshops in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) from April 7th to 9th, 2016.

Team Point of View, in collaboration with various organizations, conducted three sessions on Day 1 of the workshop at Kiran society, which had 40 participants with locomotor disabilities, between the ages of 25 and 40.

Our team member Smriti Dhingra facilitated a fun ice-breaking session, dividing everyone into smaller, mixed groups to come up with likes and dislikes. The activity not only got the participants acquainted, it also created an atmosphere of open discussion around their everyday challenges as disabled people and dealing with society. After the participants relayed their expectations from the day’s workshop, there were some lovely singing and shayari (short urdu poetry) performances by various people.

For the next session on Understanding the Body, we had trained social workers from RamaKrishna Ashram Mission. The boys and girls congregated in separate halls with a male and female teacher respectively. Training with boys started with an interesting exercise, in which questions on different sexual diseases, body parts, somatic diseases etc were served in a dish. Each male participant had to pick one, think about it and answer one by one. While some questions left them giggling, many others had them completely foxed. Terms like chlamydia were seemingly alien to them, but they were able to identify these in their vernacular tongues, but were mis-informed on their significance and unsure of their choices when it came to sex. With these the experienced trainer was able to emphasize the critical significance of sex, fertility and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in a scientific manner. He also asked the audience why they felt embarrassed or ashamed when talking about “taboo” topics like sex because they were perfectly natural things, which helped them shed some of their inhibition when discussing it. Most importantly, he made sure that his language of communication was both socially and culturally connected to his audience.

The girls’ training session began with a discussion on body parts and their functions, period shame and cultural taboos around sex. They were initially reluctant but in the safe space of a room full of women and amidst irrepressible giggles, they gradually became comfortable with their trainer Kanchan in talking openly and clearing doubts on STDs, sex organ anatomy (yoni) and conception. There still remains a lot of stigma around these topics, and the girls say they avoid such conversation with too many family members but prefer talking to friends because of “sharm” (shame). At any #sexdis workshop, we aim for body-positive, well-contextualised, shame-free, consensual sex discussions to educate & break taboos. The session concluded with methods of family planning, which was well-received.

By the evening, the trainers had touched upon multiple aspects of the body and sexuality. From anatomy, sexual health, diseases, periods, sex myths, safe sex, intercourse as well as genetics, masturbation and family planning. While covering so much is challenging in a 2.5-3 hour session, training requires that we modulate the training as we go depending on the participants knowledge and questions.

The third and final session for the day had our program head Nidhi Goyal along with Clinical Psychologist Soumya Singh from Lucknow. Nidhi started the session talking about disability, the stigma and challenges faced by disabled in society and shared inspiring stories (via video) to motivate them. She addressed participant’s questions on feeling discriminated, the idea of what’s ‘normal’, disability myths, limitations, meeting life’s needs and understand their own sexuality and sexual needs. Once again, participants kept employing the word “normal” when referring to people without disabilities, at which Nidhi skillfully explained why having self-confidence is especially important.

The video of the incredible Arunima Sinha was then screened to give the group some motivation, following which clinical psychologist Soumya Singh started her session on safety, abuse and relationships – at home and outside. Soumya started by touching upon the question of how a disabled self-identifies him/her-self. Does self-defined identity not reflect how others perceive us as well? What does it mean to be complete/incomplete? She then discussed what safe and unsafe means to the participants, and also addressed how family beliefs affects one’s notion on safety and security. Next, participants were divided into two groups – abuse and violence. They debated what abuse and violence means and which one is worse between the two. A participant said that abuse is worse than violence because it is long term torture while violence is extreme blow just once to twice, in response to which Soumya clarified that that violence & abuse are equally bad. What is bad is bad. This question shouldn’t arise. “I honour your truth” was the solemn promise that each participant promised the one sitting next to them as they looked into each other’s eyes. This was done to create trust and comfort before delving into their personal experiences dealing with abuse and violence. After participants shared their experiences, Soumya asserted that sexual abuse is not your fault. It can happen anywhere and it includes street harassment that may or may not include physical action.To conclude, she reiterated that consent is key in all relationships even legally binding one like marriage. At the end, she led the participants into a meditation to release stress and the day thus concluded on a positive note full of enthusiasm and learning.