Women’s Fund Grant Partners move needle for positive social change & gender equality. To illuminate the grantmaking in action and the work being done for women and girls, we are bringing their stories to you.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s Peer Education Program successfully recruits and trains teenage women to be peer educators. Participants receive training in an evidence-based prevention curriculum to directly educate 750 of their peers and community members on preventing unintended pregnancies, reducing sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), and combating harmful gender stereotypes. By completing the program activities at community events and various schools, peer educators strengthen their peers’ ability to identify and reduce risky behaviors, assess the impact of rigid gender roles on developing self-esteems and risky sexual behaviors, and use assertive communication skills.
We sat down with Erica Butler, Community Education Manager and Jeseka Fuller, Community Health Educator, of Planned Parenthood to talk about their Peer Education Program, our grant partnership, and how they are sparking change in the community:
As an organization, why have you chosen to continue working with The Women’s Fund? What does being a grant partner mean for Planned Parenthood?
We have always admired the work that The Women’s Fund does in the community, and have recognized them to be a trusted organization that helps young women and girls in Central Ohio.
We chose to apply for a grant through The Women’s Fund because we know that this organization is committed to gender inclusivity and social justice, two key components of our Peer Education Program here at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio. We have remained committed to our partnership with The Women’s Fund because of its accessibility and continuous support—we view The Women’s Fund as more than just a foundation, but as a network of opportunity. Thanks to our grant partnership, we are able to build connections with additional community partners and have the opportunity to share and learn from each other’s experiences.
Your Peer Education program focuses on creating a shift in behavior- which means what happens when people are behaving differently in the community or larger society. Can you share a time where you saw a shift in behavior occur?
We have noticed a shift in knowledge about and behavior with contraceptives among teenagers. Although we know that condom usage is overall low among high school students, the peer educators that participate in our program are passionate about informing their community members on the importance of condom usage as a method of preventing unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV.
At The Women’s Fund we recognize how a shift can impact social change. Tell us, within your program what does this look like and why does it matter?
The peer educators are currently working to implement a condom distribution policy at one of their respective schools so that their peers can more easily access condoms.
It matters because the hope is that through this policy, high school students will gain more knowledge about the importance of condom usage and as a consequence, STI rates will fall, just as teen pregnancy rates have.
Your program also works to create a shift in engagement- which happens when people in the community or larger society are more engaged in your issue. Can you share a time when you’ve seen this take place through your work?
Through the Peer Education Program, we have recognized the importance of parental involvement with our teens because most of them were reporting negative outcomes when attempting to discuss topics related to sexual health with their guardians. We know that parents are less likely to engage in these conversations with their kids, but that when kids start the conversations, we often see positive results. The Peer Education Program has created a simple platform for this type of communication to occur and be effective.
Providing parent-child worksheets has made it easier for conversations to happen between teens and their parents. We have also begun inviting parents to quarterly meetings so that they have a chance to engage and see the great work that their kids are doing. These two changes have led to more transparent conversations about not only sexuality and social behaviors, but also on other aspects of their daily lives, between teens and their parents.
We know that parents serve as the front-line educators for our teens, so implementing these aspects of the program has helped parents of the peer educators encourage other parents to have these types of conversations about sexuality and share available resources with their teens.
From where you sit, is there a highlight that comes to mind as you see a shift start happening through your program?
The topics that we’ve chosen to focus on within the Peer Education Program have been guided by the peer educators themselves. They requested to learn more about how to combat gender norms in their everyday lives and wanted to create a space where it is acceptable for women to have discussions related to sex and sexuality, without being considered a taboo. Through our medically accurate, non-judgmental, and age appropriate model of sexuality education, our teens have been given information, knowledge, and resources that empower not only themselves, but also their peers, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, to discuss these topics.
Our society deems it appropriate for men to speak openly and sometimes provocatively about sex and sexuality in a way that women cannot. Men are often praised for their sexual experiences while women are judged and shamed, especially when they speak openly about sex. Our peer educators do not accept this double standard and are armed with the skills and knowledge necessary to have open, honest, and accurate conversations about sex and sexuality. Through these conversations, the peer educators are working to diminish the impact that these stereotypes have on their peers. They are disseminating the knowledge they have gained through the program and empowering their peers to make healthy and informed decisions.
Since the program’s conception, our peer educators have engaged in 29,111 informed conversations about sex and sexuality and this year alone, have had over 1,760 conversations.
Part of being a Grant Partner with The Women’s Fund is recognizing the need to address gender norms. How has incorporating gender norms into your program and organization changed the way you think about the work you do?
Opening up the Peer Education Program to all genders has allowed us to think about expanding the program to community members as well as specific school districts, including males and gender non-conforming individuals.
By having peer educators engage in conversations, obtain knowledge, and share resources with their peers and community members, we are helping to create awareness around the existence of gender norms. Creating this opportunity in an expanded model in the upcoming years will allow for more awareness, not only in the community, but in the classrooms as well.
Take a moment and think about the big picture, imagine we’re 3 to 5 years down the road- where do you see your program going? Where will you be?
When we think about the expansion of the Peer Education Program, it is our hope that every school in Central Ohio has something similar. This would lead to more alumni peer educators that can continue to spread informed knowledge as they go onto their careers in the community or on college campuses. For example, one of the graduates from the program is now teaching responsible sexual health education as an extracurricular at Ohio University.
As we’re in the visionary space, as a program and organization, what more would you want from the community?
We would love for the community to be more understanding and willing to have these open conversations while removing any previous judgments or stereotypes that folks may have. We need help from the community to destigmatize active and open discussion about sexuality and sexual health. In addition, community members can be more forthcoming in adapting to the needs of their community (i.e., condom accessibility).
More information about the Peer Education Program across the entire state can be found on our website: www.ohiosexed.org or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org