When sex is taboo - Mali, Mexico, Morocco and Switzerland

London,

When it comes to talking about sex and reproduction, the doors can close quite quickly depending on where you are. In El Salvador for instance, changing people’s views on abortion seems impossible: it’s illegal there and most people are against it. Around 95% of people surveyed there in 2012 opposed abortion for women who didn’t feel ready to have a child.

Shifting public opinion in cases like this is hard, but not impossible – if you let young people do the talking.
Since the launch in March of My Body My Rights (our campaign on sexual and reproductive rights), Amnesty has been working with youth activists on an activity called Speaking Out!It aims to improve their knowledge and skills so they can promote their own rights.

We’ve started what some may call awkward conversations about sex and reproduction with one goal in mind: to help young people make decisions about their own bodies and lives without fear of violence or jail.

Shifting public opinion in cases like this is hard, but not impossible – if you let young people do the talking.
Since the launch in March of My Body My Rights (our campaign on sexual and reproductive rights), Amnesty has been working with youth activists on an activity called Speaking Out!It aims to improve their knowledge and skills so they can promote their own rights.

We’ve started what some may call awkward conversations about sex and reproduction with one goal in mind: to help young people make decisions about their own bodies and lives without fear of violence or jail.

Challenging the status quo

So far, we’ve taken Speaking Out! to youth activists in countries including Mali, Mexico, Morocco and Switzerland. Many said taking part challenged their own views on sex and relationships.

“Before the workshop I didn’t really understand that I could decide for myself whether to marry,” said Fanta Fomba, a youth group leader in Mali. “For me, all that depended on my parents. But now I know that I, too, am responsible for these decisions.”

Hamounata Dao, a member of the same youth group, explained: “Here, sexual and reproductive rights are a taboo subject between parents and children. But from this activity, we learned that young girls have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, their health, how many children they want to have. It really changed my way of thinking, because here in Mali, we think that only the man can decide how many children a woman should have.”

Elsewhere the responses were similar. “The workshop made me aware of the fact that everyone should have the right to decide anything that has to do with their sexual life and sexual health,” said Hassan El Boukri of Morocco.

Trainees become trainers

The training is a springboard for young people to become workshop leaders. They use their newfound skills to encourage discussion and understanding among their peers. Inspired by what they had learned, several participants said they were keen to spread the word.

“The workshop provided me with the chance to understand that I must find a way to reach new generations of young people,” said law graduate MarÍa Elena Mireles Cisneros from Mexico, “Incredible as it may seem, human rights are still taboo for many people my age.”

Imane Abdeljebbar from Morocco and a “feminist at heart” jumped at the chance to take part in Speaking Out! and will soon be running her own training. “I learned to listen to people and not judge them, but instead help them overcome their social and cultural prejudices and inform them in a way that will not shock them,” she said.

Mohamed Maiga, a youth group leader in the Malian capital, Bamako, said that having improved his knowledge of sexual and reproductive rights, he looks forward to “train others who have little awareness of the subject”.

We hope that young people who take part in Speaking Out! will feel confident about creating the right environment for people to have these challenging conversations. Simply by talking to each other, young people can gain the confidence to change their own behaviours and attitudes towards sexuality and reproduction, but also those of the people around them. That way, they can build a community of empowered people who can defend their own rights.

Speaking Out! is one of many dynamic and participatory activities in our new human rights education resource Respect My Rights, Respect My Dignity – Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. It will be published in October.

Find out more: www.amnesty.org/mybodymyrights

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