Peer education: Nothing for us, without us
Empowering Young People
When Stefani Mills Powers began working as a sex worker in Trinidad and Tobago eight years ago, she took risks. But “after being educated about the diseases that could be spread by unprotected oral sex,” the mid-twenty year-old transgender female says, “I took a serious stand to always use protection.”
Powers learned about sexually transmitted infections (STI) from IPPF/WHR’s Member Association, in Trinidad and Tobago, FPATT. Through the association’s Sexual Health Integrated Programme for sex workers (SHIP), sex workers like Powers learn to negotiate safer sex with clients, prevent STI and HIV, protect themselves from violence and access FPATT’s clinical services. In addition, SHIP increases public and political sensitivity to the rights, health and vulnerability of all sex workers in Trinidad and Tobago via workshops with police, social workers, immigration officials and the media.
After discovering a safer and healthier way to work, Powers was trained to be one of FPATT’s peer educators. Recognizing that advice is often more effectively received when a peer provides it, IPPF/WHR promotes innovative peer education programs that disseminate infor-mation on sexual and reproductive health and rights to underserved groups throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
IPPF/WHR’s Member Association in Costa Rica, ADC, trained peer educators to provide essential sexual health information on HIV prevention, care and sensitization to 1,722 inmates incarcerated in twelve prisons throughout the country. ADC staff member Jonás Hernández began providing one-on-one sessions with HIV-positive inmates in 2008, discussing key points such as adherence to antiretroviral drug regimens, self-esteem and condom use. Since the project began, 110 inmates have become peer educators. He says, “It is important to decrease stigma and discrimination towards this population.”
In 2008, IPPF/WHR’s Member Association in Honduras, ASHONPLAFA, began reaching young people in underserved neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula via health kiosks staffed by their peers. “It feels good to be informing so many people,” says one peer educator. For some youth who aren’t taught sex education in schools or at home, the kiosks are the only place to learn proper condom use and STI prevention.
Whatever community they belong to, peer educators are key to reaching populations that often get overlooked. But, Powers says, they wouldn’t be able to succeed without the dedication of IPPF/WHR’s Member Associations. Without FPATT being so passionate about sex workers’ rights, she says, “nothing would have happened. We would have had to keep fighting for respect and acceptance. The battle has not been won, but we know we have an advocate and that means a lot.”