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.