Nepal: Its Okay To Talk About Sex On The Radio
Nepal: Its okay to talk about sex on the radio
Nepalese are supposed to be too shy to talk about sex, but judging by the popularity of a groundbreaking radio show, Sanga Manka Kura ('Chatting With My Friend'), they don't mind hearing about the subject.
Nearly six million mainly young Nepalese tune in each week to catch an hour of drama, songs and light-hearted banter addressing issues like HIV and AIDS and sexual health.
"There are so many issues related to HIV/AIDS, of which the younger generation still hesitates to talk about openly, and this is where we help to fill the vacuum," explained producer Sangita Budhathoki.
One of the show's most popular segments is the letters sent by listeners seeking advice. Around 1,500 are received each month from people in some of the country's most remote regions, who have sometimes walked for hours to reach the nearest post office.
The stigma and discrimination faced by HIV-positive people are regular themes. "My girlfriend [recently diagnosed with HIV] threatened to commit suicide if I don't marry her. Though I promised her, I am very afraid that my community would stigmatise me for marrying someone with HIV/AIDS. Am I wrong to say that?" asked an anonymous teenager from west Nepal.
In a population of 26 million, Nepal has an HIV prevalence rate of just 0.5 percent. Nevertheless, conditions that could accelerate the spread of the virus are present: a growing number of injecting drug users, people dislocated by recent conflicts with Maoist rebels, and the migration of young villagers across the border into India looking for work.
Often unable to talk to their parents about sex, Sanga Manka Kura offers an alternative - yet its relatively tame approach to the subject still sends a shudder through older and more conservative Nepalese.
"There is a crucial need to inform the youth about how to prevent HIV/AIDS, [and] sensitise communities in both urban and rural areas, where stigma and discrimination against [people living with AIDS] is still very high," said radio producer Kaustav Pokhrel.
Sanga Manka Kura is broadcast on national radio and 30 local FM stations. Developed by the UN's Children Agency (UNICEF) and produced completely in-house by Equal Access Nepal, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), it is a vital source of information for young people living in rural areas, who have no other access to AIDS awareness messaging.
An indication of the programme's impact is that over 1,000 listeners' clubs have been formed in 69 of the country's 75 districts.
"All we do is analyse options and explain the consequences of any particular option," said Devendra Shrestha, another programme producer. "They [the audience] choose their own actions appropriate for them."