Reporting from Sex::Tech: Grassroots Gender Justice and Peer-Based Education


India, South Africa, and Brazil
are all home to projects that advocate for sexual health and reproductive
rights within their communities, and strive to engage people – youth
in particular – with activism around sexual rights.  The International
Women’s Health Coalition, based in NYC, sponsors many organizations
that work to promote reproductive justice and sexual health for girls
and women around the world.   

At the sex::tech conference,
in a workshop called "Sexuality Rights on the Web and IRL" we got
to learn about some of these projects and engage in a larger conversation
around how we engage youth and adults in sexual and reproductive health
advocacy issues.   

The YP foundation, designed to serve women and girls
in India was founded by Ishita Chaudry when she was seventeen years
old.  Starting with 3 young people; today they have developed over
1500 young changemakers, setting up over 100 projects focused on a variety
of social justice issues including reproductive and sexual health initiatives.  
Project 19, for example, was a youth led program that trained 40 young
people on Understanding Sexual Reproductive Rights and Health and HIV/AIDS:
they have just finished conducting 9 workshops with 500 young people
across Delhi.
In a video discussing the YP Foundation,

Chaudry and Sharma discussed the benefits of online media for youth
involvement with their foundation.  They brought up the pertinent
issue of connectivity with youth through media with which they are already
feel safe, comfortable and familiar, as well as the creativity of online
media engaging the creativity of young people.  

Along with critical discussion
of the issues impacting women and girls in India, the YP Foundation
also creates and sustains a space for community-level discussion of
the diverse projects being implemented by the young activists. 
Recognizing that social justice work and advocacy cannot be done in
isolation, the YP Foundation takes great pride in cultivating a sense
of community among those working for social change in India. 

While the YP Foundation has
found a medium through which to engage their immediate community, the
next project we heard about, the Sonke
Gender Justice Network

discussed the challenges of connecting with their intended population. 
Based out of South Africa, the Sonke Justice Gender Network is doing
groundbreaking work with men, women, and youth in southern, central,
and east Africa to achieve gender equality, prevent gender based violence,
and reduce the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS on their communities. The One Man Can
Campaign
, just
one of the projects of this organization, "supports men and boys to
take action to end domestic and sexual violence and to promote healthy,
equitable relationships that men and women can enjoy – passionately,
respectfully and fully."  The One Man Can Campaign educates men
and boys through coaches, faith community leaders, father and son communication
and has used street surveying, visual media, music and other tools to
get out their groundbreaking messages. 

Inspired by the Obama campaign,
the Sonke Gender Justice Network is now newly expanding their work into
the online arena, harnessing
the power
of ultilities
such as Facebook in order to expand their fantastic outreach.   

However, while they often get
positive feedback and support from people across the world, they have
a more difficult time connecting with locals due to a lack of internet
access across parts of Africa.  As an organization they are working
tirelessly to find ways to spread their messages of equality and the
power of the individual to engender change.  As technology evolves
so does their thinking around how to best meet the emergent needs of
Africans, particularly those living in South Africa, where the rates
of intimate partner violence and rape are the highest in the world. 

Living
Adolescence
(Vivendo
a Adolescencia) is a Brazilian teen sex education resource founded in
2000.  A government survey found it the website teens in Brazil
most recognized for reliable sex information.  It has been evolving
its focus over the years.  Beginning as an email question and answer
service operated by its founder, Leandro Viera dos Santos, with funding
it has expanded its scope and services, such as greater interactivity
and lobbying for use by schools.  With a recent partnership with
the IWHC, it has also been nurturing its users to become sexual and
reproductive rights activists. 

Each of these organizations
is working within the cultural frameworks for their target audiences,
and while the work may look slightly different, they have quite a bit
in common.  They all seek to bridge the gap between simply disseminating
information and helping people apply the information to their lives
on both personal and community levels.  For each of these organizations,
education is a social justice issue as well as a form of activism itself. 

Information is only one piece
of a larger picture.  Helping people make connections between their
lived experiences and the political, social, and cultural contexts in
which they live, underscores the empowerment potential of sex education.

Talking to school teachers
about sexuality education so often elicits fear and anxiety about what
it would mean to try to teach about a comprehensive, holistic, and inclusive
view of sex and sexuality in that setting.  Teachers can be fearful of
losing their positions, coming up against resistance from administration,
school boards, and parents.

The value of sexuality education
is also often framed as only being about how that education can reduce
the risks of sex for young people.  While it’s usually far bigger
than that – helping also get to positive
outcomes, to foster healthy relationships, to educate students about
their bodies — there are also other hidden benefits, benefits that
aren’t about sexuality at all, that also get overlooked.

Catherine
Ashcraft
, a professor
at the University of Colorado, Boulder, spoke Sunday at sex::tech about
the myriad ways in which sexuality education itself is a transformative
experience in the classroom, and how the educational process-with
sexuality as the subject-can improve academic outcomes that somehow
seem less fraught and emotionally-charged than sexuality-specific outcomes.  

Ashcraft noted that when sexuality is used as a vehicle for education-rather
than being seen as a threat to education-it becomes easy to reframe
an argument for comprehensive sexuality education in schools.  She added
that sexuality is essentially the most relevant topic that one could
teach in schools.  Interest-driven learning is easy to achieve when conversations
about sexuality are incorporated across the curriculum, not simply relegated
to a health or physical education class, and when these conversations
are not shut down.  A teacher’s or administrator’s unwillingness
to engage these conversations creates an impediment to learning.  Current
educational reform efforts include focus on media literacy and popular
culture, service learning and civic engagement, and the integration
of technology into learning.  Ashcraft that all of these reform areas
dovetail beautifully with the study of sexuality, including the more
relational and emotional aspects of sexuality.  

Ashcraft completed and published qualitative research about ESPERANZA, a community-based peer sex education
program.  The transformations underwent by the peer educators, selected
from a rigorous audition and interview process, were remarkable.  Ashcraft
noted that the peer educators that participated in ESPERANZA went from
seeing themselves as apathetic to activist, sex-crazed to sex-smart,
and at-risk to at-promise.  The capacity to "be smart" about
sexuality then extended into the possibility of being smart about other
topics in school and life.  The participating educators were notably
more future-oriented in their thinking about were able to envision themselves
being successful in life beyond their participation in ESPERANZA.

Ashcraft’s report about these
outcomes were visibly demonstrated by the peer educators from PASSHEN (Peers Educating Safety and Sexual
Health Education Now).  PASSHEN is a peer education program at
Berkeley High School, in Berkeley, CA.  Funded through the Office
of Traffic Safety, the PASSHEN peer educators speak in freshman and
sophomore classes about sexuality as well as the risks of drunk driving
and using substances. The youth educators are guided by three coordinators
who help fact-check and assure that the youth-generated curriculum (revised
by the educators each year in response to the needs of their school
community) is accurate.

Related to the kinds of outcomes
Ashcraft discussed, one PASSHEN peer educator spoke personally about
how participating in the program impacted her: her GPA went up more
than a full point after she started working with PASSHEN.

The PASSHEN educators led workshop
participants through a myth/fact game (even stumping some audience members
with a question about the connection between cold sores and herpes!)
and also a rousing lesson on how to properly put on a condom. 
Their style was engaging and it was easy to see how they connect with
their audience and deliver positive messages about sex and sexuality
in a way that is appealing to youth.  The PASSHEN educators receive
school credit as well as stipends for their work, and they take it seriously. 
Their commitment to reaching their peers and opening up conversations
about sexuality absolutely shined through.  Echoing the findings
of Catherine Ashcraft, we heard how involvement in PASSHEN helped them
to achieve more academically, feel better about themselves, and become
more engaged in school and their communities around them.

Though the conference focused
on the integration of sexuality, education, and technology — and these
highlights are several of many at the conference –  it was mighty
hard to miss the notion that personal connections are still at the heart
of all great sexuality education.

See also: the sex::tech Disability Panel

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  • http://www.holdsworthhouse.com.au/hhmp_sexual_health_clinic_sydney.php invalid-0

    The peer based education program sounds promising, obviously the peers leading this course are well educated on the subject and passionate enough to teach it.