Sexuality and Fertility Awareness (FA) education as part of ‘body literacy’ is a core area of Tathapi's work, involving not only bodily experience of the 'reproductive system' but also the socio-cultural and political experience of women's health.
Others tend to view FA as a natural birth control method but we see it more basically, as a woman's skilled ability 'to read' subtle feelings and body signs during her menstrual cycle. These signs tell of the natural states of fertility and infertility - that is, when she can conceive and when not. They also help her tell what is 'normal' in her own body from what is not. They tell her if she has ovulated or not, let her predict her next menstrual period, and inform her very early if she is pregnant.
FA gives girls and women a chance to reclaim power over their reproductivity and sexuality, and over many myths and misconceptions that restrict them. It helps understand the subtleties of sexuality and negotiate relationships with others, including men. It gives space for men to take responsibility for reproduction and demands equal relations between women and men.
This self-help approach for women draws from indigenous healing systems, from modern scientific discoveries, and from the women’s liberation movement.
The need for sexuality and fertility awareness education in terms of ‘body literacy’ in our Indian context:
In most of India even today, acquiring FA has sensitive and crucial social implications...
· The fact that a woman produces an 'egg' is traditionally unknown. The cultural image is of a man planting his ‘seed’ (beeja) in a woman's body as if she is the earth, or rather his field (kshetra). So even discovering that they have ‘half of the seed’ is empowering for women, and FA is much more.
· Restriction of girls' knowledge and mobility is to keep them 'innocent' and 'protected'. Parents opt to curtail their daughters’ education and marry them off early, but this lays them open to unprotected sexual encounters and abuses, even in the home. Girls and women need to know and be free.
· FA allows the skillful practice of contraception, helping to decide what to do and when. It is not a contraceptive device to 'use' by itself, but involves feeling, thinking, deciding and acting on the options. Birth control methods may be compatible or incompatible with our body and our fertility.
In this line Tathapi has produced the following resources: In Our Hands – a workbook for women on fertility and sexuality awareness (in English and Marathi languages) and two hands-on learning aids called Menstrual Cycle Wheel and Slide-Rule (in English, Hindi and Marathi).
FA is a women's issue inasmuch as women bear fertility’s brunt in male dominated society. But this kind of awareness is equally important for men to grasp, so we have included it in Tathapi’s ‘Men and Masculinities’ project.