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Marie-Stopes | multimedia health centre


SRI LANKA: MULTIMEDIA SEX EDUCATION CENTRE


source: Reuters, 19.8.02, via IPPF Newsippfnet.ippf.org/pub/IPPF_News/
News_Details.asp?ID=2268



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context: Sri Lanka is a predominantly agricultural island off the southern coast of India. It is home to people from a diverse range of ethnic and religious backgrounds and the majority of the population lives in rural areas. There have been significant improvements in the overall health and social standards within Sri Lanka in recent decades (until the tsunami tragedy). The child mortality rate, for example, has decreased by 80% since 1960. However, despite the fact that the fertility rate has reached near replacement level, the government is concerned that the high population density on the island will inhibit attempts to alleviate poverty and further improve the quality of life for the people of Sri Lanka.

The government currently spends around 5% of gross national product on health. Free health care services are provided through primary care facilities and leading hospitals. The government also subsidises all contraceptives and attempts to encourage greater use of spacing methods.

what: Sri Lanka's first multimedia sexual health centre in the capital Colombo aims to educate teenagers and tackle taboos. Doctor Sriani Basnayake, the Family Planning Association's medical director, says that although the government encourages sex education for high school students, most teachers simply gloss over the syllabus for lack of knowledge and fear of embarrassment, allowing wild notions to run rampant.

why: the association, which pioneered family planning in Sri Lanka four decades ago, set up the centre in part to respond to an explosion in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases over the last decade. “There are always new groups of young people coming into the market, ” says Daya Abeywickrema, the association's executive director, who planned the youth centre based on Basnayake's surveys on adolescent sexual knowledge and behaviour.

how: to bridge the knowledge gap, Abeywickrema converted the association's top floor, about the size of a tennis court, into an interactive museum on reproductive health. The centre's main section, where nearly every inch of space is covered with photos, drawings and explanations, offers exhibits ranging from the human reproductive system to contraception, nutrition, drug abuse and parenthood.

tackling prejudices: located away from the main exhibit, a small alcove reserved for older students challenges one of Sri Lanka's ancient marital rituals and also explains the more gritty sides of sexuality. In one corner, a mannequin decked out in full bridal wear holds a bouquet of plastic flowers in one hand and a white cloth stained with red in the other. “The little bit of tissue that has become such an issue,” says a sign over her head.

Basnayake said many brides must still prove their purity and honour by bleeding at first intercourse, or suffer misery from their husbands, families and in-laws. “In our culture, the production of a bloodstained cloth is accepted as certificate of the bride's virginity,” she said. “It's important to explain to teenagers that about a quarter of virgins do not bleed on the wedding night.”

gratification: tour guides declined to lead a group of mostly 13 to 15-year-olds into the side section because the students had not secured permission from parents. Abeywickrema says no parents or community groups have voiced objections to the centre, adding most actually feel relieved to pass embarrassing questions along to professionals. Therese Jayakody, a science teacher at an all-girls high school, says she hopes her students will share what they have learned with their friends back home. “This is a good programme,” she said, “We want this education for our girls.”


contacts

FPASL
37/27 Bullers Lane
P.O. Box 365
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
ph: +94-1-2584203
fax: +94-1-2580915
dayaabey@fpasl.org
 
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