Rural and Urban Maldivian Youth Share Their Thoughts on Sex Ed
Comprehensive sexual education in the Maldives, or lack thereof, is a subject often left undiscussed in the public sphere. In a country where adolescents account for the largest population group, access to youth-friendly information on reproductive health is virtually non-existent.
Sexual education, or sex ed in short, is a broad term used to describe education related to human sexuality, including but not limited to sexual anatomy, reproductive health, birth control and abstinence.
We had a talk with a few young Maldivians* from various islands about their thoughts on the matter. This is what they had to say.
All names have been changed to protect anonymity.
Hawwa is of the belief that teaching sexual education at any age before marriage classes leads to negative societal consequences. “When it comes to topics like the signs of puberty, bodily changes, and the distinguishing characteristics between the sexes, they should be taught when children reach the age of discernment,” she says. “However, sexual education regarding intercourse is best withheld until right before marriage.”
Hawwa is a housewife living in M. Maduvvari. After completing her GCE O’levels some years ago, she settled down and got married, and is now raising two children of her own.
“Intercourse and sexual activity is a bond that’s meant to be shared between a wife and husband. Exposing adolescents to that sort of information early on would only cause them to stray further away from religion, by encouraging premarital sex. It is simply not right.”
“I think there’s a widespread misconception in our country when it comes to sexual education,” says Misbah. Misbah is currently studying law in Malaysia, but has been brought up and living in Male’ all his life prior to moving.
“A lot of people are under the impression that sex ed encourages sexual activity before marriage, and that this is taboo. But even though premarital sex is obviously not allowed, it is an undeniable fact that some people do partake in it.”
Misbah’s main concern is the viral spread of misinformation. “When people aren’t given proper information from their parents or teachers, they look to their friends or the internet for answers instead. This is why you hear so many stories of forced abortions, and dead fetuses winding up on the beach. It is a harsh, grueling reality. And it is our responsibility as a society to make sure these things don’t happen, by providing Maldivian youth with thorough, all-inclusive education.”
“Sexual education is a very important part of life for everyone,” says Sofa. “All Muslims who are of marriageable age must learn what is permissible with their partners and what isn’t.”
Originally from B. Eydhafushi, Sofa has now been living in Male’ for fourteen years, currently working as a nurse at the state-sponsored hospital IGMH. “The purpose of sex education in schools in most western countries however, is not about teaching children how to refrain from sex until they are married. Instead, they teach them how to practice safe sex. As sex before marriage is not permissible in Islam, this sort of education to the children would do more harm than good.”
Sofa believes that a more Islam-oriented approach to sexual education would be the best solution for out-of-wedlock pregnancies. “By emphasizing on abstinence, and at the same time objectively informing children about sexual health and consequences, I think we’d see a significant difference in the numbers.”
“Most oppositions to sex education in this country are based on the assumption that knowledge is harmful,” says Ahmed. “But research in this area reveals that ignorance and unresolved curiosity, not knowledge, are harmful.”
Ahmed is originally from Fuvahmulah, and is now completing a business diploma in the cousin atoll of Addu.
“The Quran has placed so much emphasis on acquiring knowledge, and in the days of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim men and women were never too shy to ask him questions, including those related to private affairs such as sexual life. For Muslim parents of today, sex is a dirty word. Sexual education is so much more than just talking about contraception and birth control; it covers a range of incredibly important topics, such as reproductive rights, consent, and coercion. These are issues that our children need to be aware of, to help keep them safe.”
For anyone looking for relevant information, a youth kiosk has been established at the Society for Health Education (SHE), that works as a drop-in center manned by trained peer educators. Free voluntary counselling and testing services are also provided at SHE, as part of their HIV and AIDS programme.
If you’re uncomfortable talking about these topics in person, a UNFPA-supported mobile application by the name of ‘Siththaa’ is available for download, offering youth-friendly information on all things sex and sexuality.