NewPapers: Tussle For Aware: ‘We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist’

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By Veena Bharwani

April 26, 2009

HOMOSEXUALITY. Taboo? Or should students be made aware?

The issue has been a bone of contention between the old and new guard, with the latter citing its inclusion in a sex awareness course for students as unnacceptable.

In particular, the new leadership is outraged by the treatment of the topic in the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme run by Aware over the past two years.

In CSE, students are told in an ice-breaker activity that words such as ‘homosexual’, ‘pre-marital’ and ‘anal-sex’ are considered neutral. Aware’s new committee said that by deeming these terms neutral, the programme seems to promote the message that homosexuality is acceptable.

The old guard swiftly rubbished this in a press conference yesterday. The talk on homosexuality, said veteran members, constitutes only a very small part of the workshop.

And the reason the workshop raises the topic of homosexuality is because it is a real issue that teenagers have deal with.

The course does not want to alienate teenagers who are confused and need some help understanding their sexuality.

Said former Aware president Kanwaljit Soin : ‘Homosexuality exists in society and Aware cannot be an ostrich and bury its head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.’

She said if the issue was not addressed, many confused young people would be deprived of help.

‘But we don’t go and say it is a good thing to be a lesbian,’ Dr Soin added.

The CSE workshop, developed in 2007, was designed for teenagers between 12 and 18years old.

Former Aware president Constance Singam said Aware wanted to start the programme to address the alarming rise in teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions.

‘This affects the women and we wanted to help them and we are not going to discriminate against anyone who needs our help.’

The workshop has been conducted in 12 secondary schools and welfare homes and has reached nearly 500 students over 24 sessions since November.

Each workshop consists of games, role-playing, discussions and a presentation.

The workshop offers information to girls on sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and contraceptives.

Sexuality aside, the programme also helps women to talk about what they think constitutes a healthy or an unhealthy relationship.

The programme is not vetted by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Schools and teachers select who they think will benefit most from the workshop.

‘They either put up a notice in the school or teachers select who they think will benefit most from the workshop,’ said Aware’s MsDheeksha Vasundhra, a trained social worker who worked on the content of the CSE programme.

She said parents are also given an opt-out form if they do not want their child to attend the programme.

Aware member Veronica Wong, who also helped develop the education programme in January 2007, said that the programme underwent stringent audit processes.

Said Ms Wong: ‘I had to present my concept and materials to a panel of auditors comprising parents and school counsellors.

‘The programme aims to empower teenagers with all the information so they know they have alternative choices.’

MOE has a sexuality programme for students, called Breaking Down Barriers (BDB). It is taught to all Secondary 3 students.

It does not have a dedicated timeslot. Instead, various aspects of the subject are built into lessons on health education, science, and civic and moral education.

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