The absence of reproductive health lessons created a chain reaction impacting young people and their environment. An intermediate school teacher from Bandar Lampung, Sri Mulyani, or Ani, received a number of reports from local residents that her students often threw their menstrual wastes across the school fence, to a plot of land behind their school.
“Our school received a number of protests by the locals. So behind our school, there is a fence, the girls during their period, they have no idea how to dispose (the sanitary pads), thus they threw it across the fence,” Ani told us.
Another problem that she encountered was clogged school toilets, because her students were flushing their menstrual pads down the toilets. Ani assessed that this series of problems happened due to the lack of lessons on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), that is part of reproductive health education.
Not only that, the absence of reproductive health knowledge has other impacts; starting from high number of unwanted pregnancy cases, child marriage, and students dropping out of school. An intermediate school teacher from Semarang, Anita Rakhmi Shintasari, told us that these problems are prevalent in her school.
“There are often cases of students dropping out of school. Their reasons were very diverse; some were less motivated to study, some had poor self-concept, some entered the wrong clique, and we found several students dropping out of school due to them getting married early,” Anita explained.
“Some example of the cases, there was one student saying that they would commit suicide after breaking up with their lover, there was one who ran away from home, following their lover. Most of the time, the ones doing these are the girls; and the majority of them were in the 9th grade when these problems started to appear,” Anita told us.
“Before being exposed to the topic of gender, I always say that the class-rep should be a boy and the secretary should be a girl. So without realizing it, we are reproducing those stigmas,” Bintang told us when reminiscing about his time studying gender equality through the SETARA module.
“So my understanding and my values changed, after that I taught my students that we are all equal, men and women, everyone has rights, respect them, they have equal opportunities too,” Bintang continued.
“I felt, why didn’t they teach me about this back then? For me, the training was filled with flashbacks,” according to Bintang.
Bintang told the story of his journey while studying the SETARA module through his writings; and he hopes to compile them into a book. His writings tell the story of how his thought process was changed, especially related to reproductive health and gender values.
“So I think as a teacher, I want to be part of my student’s journey in facing their teenage years, so they won’t end up like me, like ‘where should I tell my stories to? Where should I ask this question?’, it’s not like we can always ask Google to answer our questions right,” Bintang expressed.
In-line with Bintang’s experience, Ani and Anita started their in-depth learning on reproductive health through SETARA. Only after understanding the lessons were they able to teach it back to their students.
“In the beginning, we were facilitated by IPPA Lampung to learn about these topics (SETARA). We then relayed it to other schools,” recalls Ani.
“Back then as a school counselor, I mostly did lectures in front of the classes, and I think children consider this method to be boring,” Anita explained.
“After coming back from the training (SETARA), I found several game activities that can be incorporated into the learning process for the students. Starting from that point, our relationship grew closer and my students started to become more open when it came to telling their stories, there was a space for an interaction to be built,” she continued.
Problem-solving approaches were shifted, they now put more attention towards the rights of the children. One of the examples is the approach in solving reproductive health-related problems, such as unwanted pregnancies and many more.
“The resolution process is different now, compared to the times before SETARA. Now at school, the better way to talk about these problems is to make use of the counseling sessions,” Anita told us.
Various problems that were once under the radar are now being highlighted, due to the knowledge that the teenagers have. For example, Anita explained that when a student is experiencing sexual violence or harassment, usually they’ll remain silent. The thing is, they might have no idea about what constitutes a violence or harassment; they might even think of it as something normal; or even feel embarrassed of it. Meanwhile, after receiving the lessons, they became aware of what is right and what is wrong, they now know the steps that they need to take.
“So there was a female student, her breast was groped by a male student from the next class. Before, if it happened, the victim usually remained silent due to the embarrassment. But since she received lessons from SETARA in her 7th grade, she has the courage to speak out, to tell what happened to her,” According to Anita, the writer of ‘Learning Reproductive Health is Fun with SETARA Module’ book.
“When discussing the topic of bullying, students felt related to the topic, they were made aware that the things that happened to them were in fact, forms of bullying that they were not aware of, both as victims and perpetrators,” Ani explained.
“I feel that this is important to be taught to students because these are knowledge that are directly linked to their lives; it’s their provision to live a healthy life in the future,” Ani stressed.
“For example, about gender [equality] and bullying, students are experiencing and seeing it firsthand. So the clash of values is very apparent for these children. For example, we teach them to avoid being the perpetrator and victim of gender inequality, violence, or bullying, but when it happens to them, to whom should they tell their stories to?” Ani explained.