Offering comprehensive sexual education to youth in Ciudad Juárez

August 17, 2015

Teens talking directly to other teens is creating a healthy conversation around sexuality in Ciudad Juárez.

Using a peer-to-peer training model, the FEMAP Foundation is providing comprehensive sexuality education for 8,000 youth age 12 to 18 in primary and secondary schools in Juárez.

The effort is part of the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s groundbreaking Two Should Know initiative. It’s part of an overarching goal to bring about long-term improvement in sexual health across a lifespan and reduce negative health outcomes such as premature pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and gender violence.

“The participants think it is innovative that another person their age is giving them the information they need,” says FEMAP Executive Director Ana Alemán. “The topic itself is very attractive and it engages the youth we work with. Since our message is about positive sexuality as part of a healthy development, the young people are more open to receive this information.”

Research shows that sexually healthy people – those who are sexually literate, comfortable and competent – are more likely to make sexually healthy choices.

In the case of FEMAP, its decision to train 730 peer educators and have them start conversations with their peers around healthy sexuality, adds another dimension to the Two Should Know initiative.

Since November 2014, the organization has worked in six different schools, five middle schools and one high school, to reach a total of 5,797 students who have received information on the subject.

“The first thing that the training addresses is any doubts and/or personal concerns that the peer educators may have. The process awakens in them a broader interest in the subject,” says Alemán. “Throughout their participation, youth educators become empowered and develop stronger leadership skills, which gives them the confidence to speak in front of small and large groups.”

Alemán adds that there has been an added benefit to the peer educators’ training. “It is important to mention that the peer educators have frequently mentioned that the training they receive helps them start this kind of conversation within their families.”

Sex education is part of the curriculum in Juárez schools, but the information is limited and most of the time has negative connotations and tends to focus on biological aspects.

FEMAP’s approach with the Two Should Initiative provides a vision and a positive message that youth are paying attention to.

“Questions are welcomed and there is no judgement,” says Alemán. “This allows the youth to have a positive interaction and openness to receive the information.”

She says the program has been evaluated by external evaluators and the results indicate that both the peer educators, and the participants who receive the information, have had a significant change in knowledge and attitudes toward sexuality.

“Sexuality is a fundamental part of human development. In this sense, education on this subject is fundamental to create a healthy society,” says Aleman. “FEMAP expects this program to foster a positive view of sexuality in the commuity and encourse a sex ‘self-care’ culture.

“We expect the program to be only the beginning – a small catalyst that awakens an interest in this subject in the community. As a result, the community will discuss the issue and become informed.”

And that’s the long-term, life span the Two Should Know initiative strives to create. In Juárez, it’s being accomplished teen-to-teen.

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