Urgensi Pendidikan Gender dan Seksualitas di Tengah Pandemi COVID-19

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It’s a wake-up call. We are not only facing a covid-19 health crisis. Simultaneously in early January, some of us faced flash floods crisis, tomorrow—just like previous years—some girls and women will go farther because of the clean water crisis and forest fires in several regions. Every crisis brings multidimensional impacts instead of a single face.

Reflect from several previous health crises, Zika and Ebola outbreak shows differences in power between men and women, meant that women did not have autonomy over their sexual and reproductive lives, which was compounded by their inadequate access to health care and insufficient financial resources to travel to hospitals for check-up their children, despite women doing most of the community vector control activities.

As the 1998 financial crisis in Indonesia, milk prices skyrocketed, many poor families were unable to fulfill their children’s nutrition. Post-Tsunami in Aceh 2004, many women didn’t have access to and control of resources such as clean water, toilets, health facilities, and shelter sanitation. Post-earthquake in Lombok in 2019, pregnant women and children lacked access to health facilities and childbirth services, they also contracted diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infections, malaria disease, and pregnancy complications.

The covid-19 outbreak has exacerbated the SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) of women in Indonesia. Not having more children in this situation becomes a strategic way, but in the midst of gender inequality in the domestic spaces, it’s difficult to realize. The use of contraceptives falls dramatically in Indonesia because of the limitation of health facilities, afraid to go to the hospital, do not able to pay, etc. BKKBN shows the increase of the number of unplanned pregnancies as 17,5% in national level, means there are 17 unplanned pregnancy every 100 pregnant women. They predict there will 370.000-500.000 additional birth in mid-2021.

During the crisis, children, adolescents, and young people with diverse backgrounds such as economic background, disability, sexuality, and gender--are the vulnerable groups. Students from poor families facing multiple obstacles to catch up with online school during the pandemic. In rural areas, some students stop studying because they have to help their parents to work in the fields.

Child marriage also becomes one of the triggers for children dropping out of school. Child marriage cases increase during the pandemic. Economic pressures cause parents to encourage their children to marry at child age. Child marriage is considered to reduce the economic burden on the parents' household. On other hand, they are married because there is no other option to find a better education or even training opportunity for their future.

Data from the Directorate General of Religious Courts shows there were 34,000 applications for marriage dispensation submitted from January until June 2020, then 97 percent of those applications were accepted. Of that number, 60 percent of applications were from children under 18 years. Some of the factors behind child marriage during the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of activity due to school terminations, various norms in the local area, and family economic problems.

Those bitter realities are opposed to adolescents’ aspiration in Global Early Adolescents Studies (GEAS) Indonesia 2018. Research on male and female adolescents aged 10-14 years in three cities (Bandar Lampung, Denpasar, and Semarang) shows both boys and girls hold high aspirations for education, employment, and family life for the future. More than 80% of teens hope to finish college, of those thinking about the time to start working, marry, or have children, 73% wish to begin work over the age of 20, and more than 90% – both male and female – also want to marry and have children after 20. 

During the crisis, children and young people were not able to show their expression and feeling regarding their sexuality and reproductive health cause harmful gender norms in society and economic pressure. It impacts how young people decide for their future. Child marriage and unplanned pregnancy are not small issues. They have multiple consequences in the future such as maternal & infant mortality, stunting, malnutrition, poverty, and hunger—while we have to handle those issues in 2030 at the latest as SDGs commitment.

Youth Voices Research 2020 conducted by Explore4Action Rutgers in collaboration with the Center for Reproductive Health, Faculty of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta explain that comprehensive sexuality and reproductive education can provide accurate information to help adolescents better understand their bodies and boundaries. Young people can feel more comfortable with themselves and their developing bodies, improving mental health and self-esteem. This improved understanding can also help to reduce young people’s risk of abuse and exploitation in many forms.

Comprehensive sexuality and reproductive education supports young people to critically assess complex conflicting messages, find help, and plan their future. Unfortunately, it is limited or even not available at school. While topic about sexuality is often considered taboo in society and adults or even parents do not have sufficient knowledge about SRHR. So that many of the young people go to the internet and social media to find information—which there a lot of sexuality discourse on them.

Here comprehensive sexuality and reproductive education plays an important role in preventing a bigger disaster when we are in the crisis. Comprehensive sexuality and reproductive education is not limited to improve physical health but also human well-being. It should be available at the very beginning particularly for women, children, and young people using the intersectionality approach.

Andi Misbahul Pratiwi (Indonesian feminist writer and researcher)

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