2019 Feb 26
Human sexuality is a key topic being discussed in Sri Lankan society as of late, yet not given prominent attention in terms of practical knowledge and its biological and psychological importance to individuals.
Human sexuality has a fundamental function to propagate the conception of a child but clearly, sex goes far beyond the powerful evolutionary instinct to procreate. Sex is also about sensual pleasure. Enjoyment. Excitement. Even ecstasy. It denotes sexual feelings and related expressions regarding human relationships. At the same time, sexuality and sexual intercourse increases the bond between individuals. Hormones released during intercourse, endorphins, are known to relieve anxiety and stress. However, to fulfill this, one has to have a healthy sex life and precise awareness regarding reproductive health.
It is evident that sexuality and reproduction is a taboo topic among Sri Lankans which needs to be addressed correctly in order to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, unhealthy pregnancy practices etc. Each year, 200 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception, more than 45 million women receive inadequate or no antenatal care, 1 million women and girls acquire HIV, and 25 million abortions are unsafe. Sri Lanka alone has a growing rate of HIV cases reported; 249 to be exact in the year of 2016, but nevertheless growing ever since.
These numbers illustrate huge gaps in access to basic sexual reproductive health services, posing serious challenges to achieving health coverage to overcome these recurring problems. These gaps are heightened by the lack of awareness and highlight the importance and urgency of strengthening linkages between of sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes.
Ms. Manisha Dissanayake is the proud Founder and Director of The Arka Initiative, an enterprise striving to provide practical and tangible support to both men and women on concerns surrounding sexual and reproductive health. Upon contacting Ms. Shruthi De Visser, the Director, we were able to understand that the initiative is led by a group of young people who bring fresh perspective and clear objectives to the table, and are backed by professionals who have demonstrated a strong commitment to service and prowess in their respective fields of work. The main goal of The Arka Initiative is to create a safe space for communication and to be a catalyst for the greater realisation of sexual and reproductive healthcare in Sri Lanka.
It comes as no surprise to know that Colombo does not have high awareness on sexual reproductive health, and individuals speak very little and less openly about it, armed with the very little knowledge that they have regarding their own bodies and the inability to approach the conversation of sexual health in relationships. Ms. Shruthi emphasises the importance of having access to knowledge regarding sexual reproductive health in order to make life changing decisions based on it, and here in Sri Lanka, we need an appropriate platform such as The Arka Initiative to speak up about it, especially to young individuals living outside of Colombo.
The Arka Initiative has three programs as of now:
The Prána Series, headed by mentors who are young doctors, holds a series of workshops called the Arka Circles where both young men and women are bought forward in comfortable intimate groups and are curated in such a way that all the fundamental introductory reproductive health topics such as period cycles, STDs, and viral infections are covered.
Next, the Padanama Program creates a space for individuals wishing to remain anonymous yet access free of charge access to one-on-one counselling sessions with the mentors with quick confidential answers to urgent questions regarding sexual reproductive health. In the instance of a more pressing serious question, the mentors will then refer the individual to one of the board members of The Arka Initiative.
The Aeya Initiative is a program that has not yet been formally launched, however groundwork and research is still being done for a sustainable sanitation project for the provision of reusable sanitary pads or period cups to a specified underserved demographic. The goal is to assist young girls in the realization of their sexual and reproductive rights by facilitating access to medical check-ups and tests, whilst providing tangible support.
A launch of a white paper blog highlighting and providing not just personal thoughts and ideas but analytical, statistical, and academical information is currently being announced.
Ms Shruthi moves on to explain why Sri Lanka is in need of a platform such as The Arka Initiative, highlighting how, as children, we have been educated about sexual reproductive health in an academical and biological way, which, while relevant, does not place importance on it relationally, emotionally, and socially. She emphasises that it is a basic right and it is wrong to treat the topic as something to be strictly discussed with only physicians or as something that only pertains to one after marriage, married or unmarried, sexually active or not. All of Sri Lanka needs to have access to this information and the importance of talking about it, for both men and women equally.
The Arka Initiative identifies the lack of focus shown to men regarding their sexual and reproductive heath and therefore has held a men’s focus group to understand the way men think, how men are being socialised to the topic, and how men proceed further to make life choices based on the knowledge gathered.
The feedback obtained is quite impressive, states Ms Shruthi, especially amongst young women writing back to thank the many instances the initiative has helped them with their questions, abstaining the confusions of Google. Existing organizations related to sexual reproductive health are already reaching out to lend a helping hand and collaborate with The Arka Initiative.
For further knowledge, they have a weekly video series on the psychological and social considerations that affect sexual and reproductive wellness! Topics such as partner dynamics, barriers that impede access to medical personnel and institutions, and the effect of stress and depression on sex and reproductive wellness are discussed.
This week on IGTV, on the social platform “Instagram”, the topic of pregnancy will be covered with a thorough breakdown of how to get your body ready to conceive, symptoms of pregnancy etc. Two successful workshops, both in Colombo and Moratuwa, have been concluded.
The Arka Initiative is one of a kind, enabling individuals to grasp such topics not just medically or biologically, but personally too. Important topics such as post-partum depression and the importance and usage of contraception are discussed, therefore providing a platform for the discussion of life changing decisions prior to occurrence. The Arka Initiative also takes pride in focusing on not just women, but the sexual reproductive issues of men too, which is usually neglected in Sri Lanka. We sincerely applaud the Founder, Ms. Manisha Dissanayke along with her group of Directors and mentors in effectively bring sexual reproductive health to Sri Lanka’s attention.
Drop by their upcoming workshop, being held on the 2nd of March 2019 between 4 – 6 pm. ‘Arka Circles: Flip Side of the Coin’ will be held at the Royal Skills Center in the Royal College Premises. Entrance is free but do register on their Facebook page beforehand!