You are who you choose to be: International Youth Day 2021

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I believe that the youth are critical agents of change towards a better future and hence each of their precious lives matters. On International Youth Day, designated as an awareness day by the United Nations, I thought I would discuss the hushed-up issues such as gender, sex, drugs and HIV faced by the youth of my country.

Our society defines how an individual should behave from an early age. Some children during their school days realize that they don’t feel they belong to the assigned gender. They feel trapped in a wrong body. They don’t want to dress, talk, walk, think, and behave in gender-conforming ways and therefore act out.  Sadly the majority of the parents and guardians treat this behaviour as abnormal and fail to understand them. These children get scolded, beaten and many a time thrown out of the house whenever they behave like another gender. At school, these children are cursed, face taunts, called by hurtful names like ‘chakka, maamu’ and many a time also raped, eventually forcing them to leave education.

With no guidance and support, these young people who are already undergoing intense mental struggle with understanding their gender identity become increasingly anxious, depressed and suicidal. They often resort to drugs for overcoming suicidal thoughts and take up sex work for sustenance. Since terms like ‘SEX’, ‘CONDOM’ and ‘HIV’ are never talked about openly in our society, youth many a time under the influence of drugs indulge in high-risk chemsex practices and often have sex without protection, which often results in contracting HIV.

Our research study conducted at Alliance India amongst men who have sex with men and transgender youth living with HIV reported an increased level of internalized stigma, anticipated stigma, enacted and felt normative stigma and discrimination due to their gender identity and HIV stigma. The stigma and discrimination faced by them interfere with their access to health, education, employment, financial and other related services.

On this day, I would like to highlight the need for increasing knowledge and awareness about gender and sexuality issues, HIV and safer sex practices amongst children and youth studying in school, colleges, their parents and employees and employers in corporate/ government offices through workshops, interactive sessions and campaigns. This will be an important step towards reducing transphobia, destigmatizing HIV and building a healthier and more inclusive society.

~ Written by Aakriti Gupta, Technical Officer: Research and Evaluation, Alliance India

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