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Teachers display a card with an illustration depicting a girl going through a medical checkup by a doctor, as they describe preventive measures to avoid when sexual harassment occurs, during a class in Shadabad Girls Elementary School in Pir Mashaikh village in Johi, some 325 km (202 miles) from Karachi. — Photo by Reuters
Teachers display a card with an illustration depicting a girl going through a medical checkup by a doctor, as they describe preventive measures to avoid when sexual harassment occurs, during a class in Shadabad Girls Elementary School in Pir Mashaikh village in Johi, some 325 km (202 miles) from Karachi. — Photo by Reuters

JOHI: In neat rows, the girls in white headscarves listened carefully as the teacher described the changes in their bodies. When the teacher asked what they should do if a stranger touched them, the class erupted.

“Scream!” one called out. “Bite!” another suggested. “Scratch really hard with your nails!” a third said.

Sex education is common in Western schools but these ground-breaking lessons are taking place in Pakistan.

Publicly talking about sex in Pakistan is taboo and can even be a death sentence.

Almost nowhere in Pakistan offers any kind of organised sex education. In some places it has been banned.

But teachers operating in the village of Johi in poverty-stricken Sindh province say most families there support their sex education project.

Around 700 girls are enrolled in eight local schools run by the Village Shadabad Organisation. Their sex education lessons — starting at age eight — cover changes in their bodies, what their rights are and how to protect themselves.

“We cannot close our eyes,” said Akbar Lashari, head of the organisation. “It's a topic people don't want to talk about but it's fact of our life.”

Facts of life

Lashari said most of the girls in the villages used to hit puberty without realising they will begin to menstruate or they got married without understanding the mechanics of sex.

The lessons even teach the girls about marital rape — a revolutionary idea in Pakistan, where forcing a spouse to have sex is not a crime.

“We tell them their husband can't have sex with them if they are not willing,” Lashari said.

The lessons are an addition to regular classes and parents are told before they enroll their daughters. None has objected and the school has faced no opposition, Lashari said.

The eight schools received sponsorship from BHP Billiton, an Australian company that operates a nearby gas plant, but Lashari says sex education was the villagers' own idea.

Teacher Sarah Baloch, whose yellow shalwar kameez brightens up the dusty school yard, said she hoped to help girls understand what growing up meant.

“When girls start menstruating they think it is shameful and don't tell their parents and think they have fallen sick,” shesaid.

Baloch teaches at a tiny school of three brick classrooms. A fourth class is held outside because there are so many girls.

Three girls cram into each seat made for two, listening attentively to Baloch. One flashcard shows a girl stopping an old man from touching her leg. Other cards encourage girls to tell their parents or friends if someone is stalking them.

The girls are shy but the lessons have sunk in.

“My body is only mine and only I have the rights on it. If someone touches my private parts I'll bite or slap him in the face,” said 10-year-old Uzma Panhwar defiantly as she blushed.

The lessons also cover marriage.

“Our teacher has told us everything that we'll have to do when we get married. Now we've learned what we should do and what not,” said Sajida Baloch, 16, staring at the ground.

Ahead of its time?

Some of Pakistan's most prominent schools, including the prestigious Beaconhouse School System, have been considering the type of sex education practised in Johi.

“Girls feel shy to talk to their parents about sex,” said Roohi Haq, director of studies at Beaconhouse.

There is definitely demand. Lahore-based Arshad Javed has written three books on sex education and said he sells about 7,000 per year. None are sold to schools.

But not everyone agrees with the lessons, partly because young people were not supposed to have sex before adulthood. Recently the government forced a private school to remove all sex education from its curriculum.

“It is against our constitution and religion,” said Mirza Kashif Ali, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, which says it represents more than 152,000 institutions across the country. “What's the point of knowing about a thing you're not supposed to do? It should not be allowed at school level.”

In neighbouring India, many government schools formally offer sex education but Pakistani government schools have no such plans. Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, the education minister for Sindh province, was shocked to hear of the lessons.

“Sex education for girls? How can they do that? That is not part of our curriculum, whether public or private,” he said.

But Tahir Ashrafi, who heads an alliance of moderate clerics called the Pakistan Ulema Council, said such lessons were permissible under Islamic law as long as they were segregated and confined to theory.

“If the teachers are female, they can give such information to girls in the limits of Sharia,” he said.

Comments (56) Closed

yakoob Feb 25, 2014 10:17am

finally one good news from pakistan, someone is growing mentally atleat.

Aamir Sohail Feb 25, 2014 11:06am

When we, as a nation, have our literacy rate about 54%, what to speak of the backward areas of southern Punjab and central Sindh, and we didn't even give the basic moral and ethical education to the masses with the help of untrained teachers [ridiculous] in 66 years history of Pakistan, how can we teach an illiterate stratum of our society about sex? The need of the hour is not sex education but how to make a good citizen of Pakistan. This end can be achieved by giving the youngsters a quality education. Mothers have been teaching their daughters about sex education since the inception of Islam.

Razia Sultana Feb 25, 2014 11:56am

If they know everything, then they fight for their rights and against slavery. Taliban will weep if women get any rights on their bodies or minds.

Jalbani Baloch Feb 25, 2014 11:57am

Such news should not be disseminated through newspapers, as the country is already going through insurgency with traces to religious extremism. If any effort is made in any part of the country, it may not necessarily be made public, but since these type of activities are funded by foreign governments with their hidden motives, they need wide publicity through their so called NGOs.

Najma Feb 25, 2014 12:07pm

Pakistan Ulema Council should be banned in Pakistan. They are the root cause of all evils.

Anwaar Feb 25, 2014 01:49pm

@Najma But Tahir Ashrafi, who heads an alliance of moderate clerics called the Pakistan Ulema Council, said such lessons were permissible under Islamic law as long as they were segregated and confined to theory.

Amir Feb 25, 2014 02:25pm

I am glad to hear that public schools of Pakistan are revitalizing and adding significantly to the society, which is their role in any progressive economy. Educating girls equals educating a generation.

Sheena Feb 25, 2014 02:38pm

Little surprised though with this report as it is referring to a rural area of Sindh but do you think there is any specific need of such education in the era of modern media specially in Pakistan where every thing has now been shown without any censorship. Actually the responsibility of guiding the children always lie upon parents who at least should know the right time, how and when to educate their child about Sex. Well, time has told that majority of the children learn about sex, uses and abuses with time and their own observations.

Zaman Feb 25, 2014 02:47pm

I agree with Mirza kashif. Although this type of educatiosn is necessary for growing adults but at the same time it carries demerits as well, with proper time these things should be taught to adults when they're closed to get marriage.

K G Surendran Feb 25, 2014 03:06pm

@Razia Sultana: Well said.

Ailly Feb 25, 2014 03:27pm

@Najma: what's the point here in discussing Mullah with such disrespect ?.

Imran Feb 25, 2014 04:17pm

@Aamir Sohail: I dont know why and how can one dislike your comment. I guess you got it spot on but still there are people who would object. May Allah help us all.

atts Feb 25, 2014 04:23pm

Great news! This is just the first step, they should include it in all schools

SYEDA SARA BATOOL Feb 25, 2014 05:13pm

yeah lessons on protection and against sexual harrasment are not bad in certain limtations,,,

mba Feb 25, 2014 05:17pm

@Aamir Sohail: In which country do you live? What sex education the mothers can give, if they don

Agha Ata Feb 25, 2014 06:39pm

Knowledge is always better than ignorance. Knowledge is a power.

Irfan Sahotra Feb 25, 2014 07:33pm

I do not understand why our liberal society is so fixated on sex and similar controversial topics.........our traditional ways of imparting such information to younger generation i.e. through elder sister or mother or the lady health workers can be relied upon to convey such information. Why bring such controversial subjects to schools in a country where about half of the population does not even want their girls to get educated? We have to understand that nations make socio-economic progress through a tedious, long drawn and gradual struggle....and not by leaps and bounds as envisaged by our pseudo-intellectual western funded NGO people. Such steps may win such NGO's an occasional pinch of publicity but are entirely useless in the longer term.........

mba Feb 25, 2014 07:36pm

@Aamir Sohail: In which country do you live? What sex education the mothers can give, if they don

Mj Feb 25, 2014 08:51pm

@Zaman: So a 9 year old can get married under religious law and precedent, but god forbid if someone teaches them about their own bodies.

El Cid Feb 25, 2014 09:23pm

In Islam Muslim girls are taught the facts of life by their mother, grand mothers, or aunts. That is what the Taliban were saying when they objected to western sex instructions, not education, to their daughters.

However, now that the western example is being followed the rest of the curriculum and backup such as contraceptives, STD's, vaccines, IUD's, lab demonstrations, a nursery, child care, baby sitter, pregnancy leave, and abortion facilities should also be provided. Also stipends and daycare for single mothers...there will be lots of them. And fatherless/multi-fathers/fathers unknown babies.

That is the full spectrum, the western way. You don't want your secular daughters stranded half way, in the lurch, once the natural normal inherent Muslim 'haya' has been removed from their psyche.

Jehan Mir, MD Feb 25, 2014 11:12pm

Sex has been a taboo subject for centuries.Even adults could not talk about it risking charges of profanity. Saadat Hussain Minto Sahib Where are you ?

Amjad Wyne Feb 26, 2014 03:11am

@Aamir Sohail: Unfortunately, protection of an illiterate child from sexual predators is as important as the protection of a literate child. "Sex Education" is probably the wrong term - these should be described as "gender awareness" or "growing up to be an adult". That said, I agree that teaching to become a good citizen is equally important.

Abbas Khan Feb 26, 2014 06:29am

Surprised to see the comment from this Mirza Kashif Ali chap and supporting comments. 'Whats the point of learning about something you're not supposed to do ..." - people saying this and supporting this probably do not have daughters and if they do, have no idea of the responsibilities of being a parent to daughters in our society. Our society is riddled with sexual misdemeanours at all levels and in all echelons. Teaching children, especially girls, to be aware and to be careful is very very important and anyone in opposition should have their heads examined.

Insan Feb 26, 2014 06:53am

I commend empowering all girls at an early age with information about their bodies and their personal rights... Women are not Sub Human ..They become our Mothers and Wives...they are our Sisters and Daughters too ! All power to them and organizations who are helping to cultivate RESPECT for the Girl Child and when she matures.. Woman . God Bless the feeble efforts of these organizations.. !

Haroon Rooha Feb 26, 2014 07:20am

@mba: The Education is acquired.It is a hard work.Education makes usThink,demand evidence,rather than think in a box.Education shrinks the boudries of Unknown.Education makes us confident self reliance,where faith and belief dies.

Haroon Rooha Feb 26, 2014 07:23am

@SYEDA SARA BATOOL: There can be no limitations on acquiring knowldge.There can be no stupid or harmfull questions.There are stupid and absurd answers.

Haroon Rooha Feb 26, 2014 07:31am

@Najma: Religions are the opium for masses.Keep masses ignorent dependent,and feeding the people in high seat.You work hard here and now get rewarded in Next!!!

Haroon Rooha Feb 26, 2014 07:35am

@Aamir Sohail: Islam is opposed to scietific education,As were Judaism and Paulism.They have transformed.and now Islam must.

Haroon Rooha Feb 26, 2014 07:37am

@yakoob: March of TIME,Evolution.Survival of fittest.Those who cannot adapt must perish.

kamaljit Singh Feb 26, 2014 01:13pm

Better if we call it Gender Education.

Sheena Feb 26, 2014 02:03pm

I don't know, what is going in the minds of people commenting here with their likes and dislikes over comments but what I extracted that people who commented straight in favor of sex education have got maximum likes while people who show slightest of concerns over the news have got maximum dislikes. OK, this is their right to like or dislike anything but for them who thinks to get their child educated with Sex must know that there is a proper age that let you understand certain things. You can't understand the matriculation course without passing through all earlier classes. similarly many children developed the instinct well before time and some got way after the official adult age. Further to this a sex educationist specially a teacher is also a new phenomenon in our culture that also needs to be verified first. similarly there are many complexities in our culture and understandings that must be addressed to make this new activity smoother and acceptable in our schools. No one could brief a child or give sense for a good touch and a bad touch except mother who is much experienced and more comfortable to convey this thing on right time. So right concerns are there that needs to be addressed and right Strategy must be taken while adopting and spreading it in our culture.

Imran Ahmed Feb 26, 2014 02:57pm

A society that disempowers women that even frowns upon their basic right to select their own husbands a right clearly shown by our Prophet's (PBUH) own life will of course frown upon removing the ignorance of girls about how their bodies work and what their rights are in respect to men. Men here seem to consider it their innate right to control not only women's sexuality but all aspects of their lives.

Marine Feb 26, 2014 03:05pm

Its a good start for our new generation girls, to learn about how to protect themselves. It's a shame Mira Kashif Ali and Nisar Ahmed Khruro, Its a country where women raped and abused every single day, got married before they reached there puberty,instead of encouraging this thing you are apposing this?? I don't know how you became the eduction minister of Sindh. Educating girls about there rights is a very good thing.

Mahek Aziz Feb 26, 2014 04:55pm

Actually the teachers of sex education are failed to express their views rightly to the parents,they need to rename this way of's a positive mind that these organizations desires to teach the tricks to children so that they can fight against the animals of our society.

F. K Feb 26, 2014 06:43pm

its not something that will make us feel proud we should follow our culture However it is great to give awareness about rape but this is not the right way.

El Cid Feb 26, 2014 10:15pm

@mba: What sex education the mothers can give, if they don

akram Feb 26, 2014 11:44pm

If pakistan wants to join the modern world, it will have to develop both it's manpower and woman power. This is simply part of training women for the 21st century.

independentthinker Feb 27, 2014 03:52am

This is one topic I never thought I will be reading in DAWN, during my lifetime! As much as I am for girls to know about their rights and responsibilities and be aware and educated about the changes that their bodies go through, I believe they are going a little too quick! With our police and justice system being so corrupt, laws still not in place to protect a women's right, how can these young girls be taught about "marital rape". You think if a married woman goes to the police to report her husband raping her, she is going to get too far? Even in Western countries, where they are quite liberal, proving a "marital rape" is quite hard. I think we need to take one step at a time. Yes, by all means educate young girls, teach them how to protect and defend themselves - but don't go so far, as to giving them false hopes and later, they find themselves in deeper trouble, when society is not there to help them and they have also burnt their bridges on the home front.

Aslam Feb 27, 2014 05:51am

it's nice start but just rename it for example guidance or women rights not sex.

illawarrior Feb 27, 2014 07:39am

@Sheena: In the west where sex education is widely accepted, it is not a one-off class. It is given gradually over the years, and appropriate to the age of the child.

illawarrior Feb 27, 2014 08:21am

@Insan: And boys too. They also need to understand their bodies and learn how to control their urges.

Nasir Feb 27, 2014 09:17am

Yes Agree with Mr. Ashrafi! Such type of lessons are allowed in Islam if taught by a female in the limits of Sharia, but only on body protection and changes in the physical characteristics and but please please NOT lessons on Safe Sex before marriage because whats the point of lesson which we are not allowed and consider it a big sin to do before a legal wedlock

illawarrior Feb 27, 2014 10:06am

@SYEDA SARA BATOOL: What limitations are you recommending? Why would you want any limits on women learning to avoid being harassed?

illawarrior Feb 27, 2014 10:09am

@Irfan Sahotra: All societies are fixated on sex, because it is such a strong primal urge. All living things, including plants and animals, are programmed with a powerful survival instinct motivating them to ensure propagation of their species. The only difference with "liberal" societies is the extent to which it is openly discussed.

illawarrior Feb 27, 2014 10:11am

@Aamir Sohail: Sex education can go a long way towards dealing with Pakistan's population control, even when otherwise illiterate.

Nasir Feb 27, 2014 10:44am

Yes Agree with Mr. Ashrafi! Such type of lessons are allowed in Islam if taught by a female in the limits of Sharia, but only on body protection and changes in the physical characteristics and but please please NOT lessons on Safe Sex before marriage because whats the point of lesson which we are not allowed and consider it a big sin to do before a legal wedlock.

khanm Feb 27, 2014 12:28pm

Sex education has to do with what's in people's head. When Adam and eve survived so will rest of mankind. If birds and bees can find out through their instincts trust me human being are far more superior.

Kashif Feb 27, 2014 12:39pm

@mba: Who will monitor these Sex Educators for the contents/ Syllabus in order to check whether people are learning some positive or rather spoiling themselves. In spite of routine Sex Education in west since so many years, what have they learnt? More Number of Rapes ,Illegal Marital Relations and denying marriage and Family system. Luckily with our culture, traditions, Family system and religion providing all necessary information to youngsters at appropriate time, we don't require any extra such Sex Education. May be in West it suits for them because they lack all these elements.

Shaukat Feb 27, 2014 06:46pm

As a gynecologist practicing in US I have seen so many well educated patients from Southeast Asia that have no concept of their bodies. I have seen cases of rapes and assualts by their own husbands. Sex education is extremely important in this day and age. I am glad it is being given by a teacher.

Agha Ata Feb 28, 2014 02:47am

It shouldn't even be a news. SEX is a subject no one can avoid. How can one? It is the most respectable emotion we have. We should follow all the rules made for it. And all children in all schools need to know the rules.

illawarrior Feb 28, 2014 06:32am

@Kashif: Sex education is to teach facts. It is up to society to impart moral standards.

Haroon Rooha Feb 28, 2014 07:53am

@illawarrior: None.Trust your sisters and daughters.Westren women are not what you think.

Nobody Feb 28, 2014 01:37pm

@Abbas Khan: And P.S. I am one of two daughters and neither one of my parents ever restricted my sister or me; they raised us to be tough and independent, and their overall method of raising us was not that different to that of a boy. My parents understand they will not be around to protect us forever and would rather us grow to take care of ourselves and know how the world works without being dependent on others.

Nobody Feb 28, 2014 01:39pm

@F. K: Then what is the right way? Wait til someone gets raped and then educate them? And "our" culture never resisted education; this is a new form of regression taking over the country.

El Cid Feb 28, 2014 07:58pm

Note the subtle sexism cues in the photo that goes with this article: A western dressed man, without the mandatory white coat of the medical professional, examines a girl with the shirt/dress pulled up. There is NO second person(nurse), again against acceptable medical protocol.

JD Feb 28, 2014 09:56pm

It is said here that some Indian govt schools offer sex education but I as an Indian believe it should be made mandatory in all public, private schools to enlighten girls of their rights and modesty even when young and also to help them recognize devils i.e. rapists, assaulters hiding among us humans and teach them how to defend against them necessarily !