Youth participation increases the relevance, acceptability and attractiveness of any development programme. Programme partners state that young people bring with them a vibrancy and energy. Adolescent girls who are leaders in the sport programme are a source of information for other adolescent girls and discuss sensitive issues that are relevant for their peers and that older people find difficult to address.
Youth participation also increases the access and reach of the sport programme. Youth volunteers, such as peer educators, play a key role in strengthening the referral system and facilitating adolescent girls' access to SRHR services and information. Participants from programmes say this benefits them personally and socially: they feel empowered and value the participation as a way to personal growth, gaining skills and confidence and a better understanding of SRHR. They feel an increased sense of ownership of the programmes and a growing motivation to take action for change.
The unique quality of the peer provider programme lies in increased access to the target population. Youth, especially adolescent girls, are hard to reach, particularly in areas where enrolment in school is limited. Sometimes adults speak different languages from the younger generation, and often, adolescent girls shy away from asking questions about sexual health out of discomfort or apprehension. Peer providers know exactly how to reach the ones they are trying to help – they know how to communicate effectively. Sport programmes are safe places where adolescent girls can ask any kind of question and not feel embarrassed.129
Tip: Comprehensive Peer Education
Some programme partners emphasise that peer education is not intended to be an isolated intervention; it is intended to be one important part of a comprehensive, co-ordinated effort to help lead adolescent girls towards making their own wise and responsible decisions. Peer education programmes should be implemented in a comprehensive way and grounded in a human rights based approach.
Advantages and Benefits of Peer Education
Some advantages and benefits of peer programmes within sport programmes addressing SRHR130 include the following:
- They build on evidence that adolescent girls already obtain a lot of their SRHR information from peers.
- Adolescent girls relate well, perhaps even best, with those similar to themselves in age, background and interests, i.e. their peers. Peer education helps when discussing sensitive SRHR issues with adolescent girls, who often find it easier to express opinions openly with people their own age. Adolescent girls also trust their peers – rather than adults – to keep their secrets.
- That peer educators are of the same culture thus the language and messages used are relevant.
- Peer programmes can help change social behaviour.
- Compared to other strategies, peer programmes are relatively inexpensive.
- Peer programmes often reach beyond the target population and into the family and the community as a whole.
- Peer educators often gain long-term benefits from their experiences. These include an on-going commitment to responsible SRH behaviour, leadership, job training and experience.131
- Adolescent girls are not taken seriously. Adults in the communities and organisations may not take them seriously, seeing them as subordinates. These adults feel that adolescent girls are not capable of being involved in particular activities or making decisions, or may feel threatened or disrespected by young people voicing their opinions. This hampers meaningful participation within sport programmes but also leads to barriers in getting permission to carry out adolescent girl-led activities.
- Quick overturn of active adolescent girls.
- Problems with incentives and transport.
- Difficulties monitoring quality of education and messages of peer educators, making sure girls’ are fully educated on the issues and not perpetuating myths or misinformation.
- Limited availability of adolescent girls due to school or work.
- Lack of legitimacy in the eyes of other girls because of limited life experience.
Overall, peer educators provide an important mechanism for reaching adolescent girls, especially where project villages are remote and youth, including married girls, are more isolated.132 Programme partners communicate that peer educators can be particularly effective in transmitting information and ideas, but less so when it came to providing referrals for sexual and reproductive health services. They also can be more comfortable when working with peers in individual sessions or groups, and less confident with larger advocacy efforts at the community level. However they also need on-going, on-site training and monitoring support. Support helps motivate adolescent girls and ensure a level of quality control. However, it also adds to the responsibilities of programme field staff and, as such, needs to be planned and budgeted for at the outset.
Useful Example – Peer Youth Educators
Kenya’s Carolina For Kibera (CFK) seeks to empower Kibera's youth to talk to about sex, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive health. Community theatre, debates, school clubs and innovative door-to-door campaigns are utilised. These are but a few of the ways CFK’s 52 Peer Youth Educators educate their community about HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. Their light-hearted “edutainment” helps to break down the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in Kibera while presenting vital information in a fun and memorable way. They also hand out thousands of condoms, conduct one-on-one counselling sessions and make referrals to Tabitha Clinic for family planning and testing. Peer Youth Educators collaborate with all CFK programmes to offer HIV-testing and private, on-site counselling at public events. These youth are determined to reduce HIV/AIDS and other STIs affecting their friends and family members.
Useful Example – Peer-led Health Education and Football
Moving the Goalposts (MTG) peer-led health education goes hand in hand with football activities. Players select their own peer educator who takes them through a two year interactive programme focused on reproductive health and rights. The programme is run with girls in different age categories. Peer education takes place during every event or tournament. Each year a number of schools that participate in the MTG tournament are selected for a one year school peer education programme. Boys also are included during the video shows at schools. MTG-selected girls are trained as counsellors who support other players and community members in their village. The health department establishes links with partners in the field including government officers, such as the Ministry of Health to make youth friendly health services accessible for MTG girls.
MTG has been integrating football and peer-led health education since 2004. The girls and young women in the health department have a lot of experience in educating each other and their peers in issues of reproductive health and rights. A new comprehensive MTG health curriculum has been completed by MTG staff based on girls’ questions and needs per age category. Included in the curriculum are individual stories to encourage participants to share their own stories. Another addition is “ask an adult a question” in which girls can ask questions anonymously. MTG health staff members are the adults who collect the questions and help the peer educators to answer the questions.