Young educators take the AIDS message to schools
By Su-May Tan and Indra Nadchatram
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 November 2007 – While girls across the country geared up for the 3R-UNICEF All Women’s Futsal Playoffs, another kind of action took place in school halls in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur.
Led by peer educators from AIESEC Malaysia and hosted by UNICEF Malaysia’s Goodwill Ambassadors, the 3R TV hosts (from popular local TV series Respect, Relax, Respond), a series of education workshops, supported by Manchester United FC through its United for UNICEF partnership, were organised to bring HIV and AIDS awareness messages to teenage girls.
“Girls tend to be at higher risk of HIV infection than boys,” says Geraldine Sandra Sebastian, an AIESEC youth peer educator who has been championing the AIDS cause over the past three years. “This is partly because girls are more likely to be pressured into having sex and less likely to be able to control with whom, when and how they have sex.”
Geraldine who is also President of AIESEC in Malaysia, see these Workshops as an important step forward and stresses the need to provide young girls with all the necessary help, education and skills that will protect them from HIV infection.
Social norms put girls at greater risk of HIV
As in most parts of the world, young people in Malaysia account for an increasing number of HIV infections every year. The Ministry of Health’s December 2006 statistics reveal that 37.12% of people living with HIV in Malaysia are adolescents and youth aged between 13 to 29 years old while infections amongst women and girls are also growing dramatically. In 1990, out of every 83 cases reported, one was female. By 2006 that figure rose to one in seven.
According to UNICEF Malaysia Goodwill Ambassador and 3R TV host Celina Khor, social attitudes to sex and sex education sometimes make it more difficult for girls to get the information they need to protect themselves from the virus.
“Prevention programs aimed at young women and girls need to realistically address the topic of sexual relations, condoms and protection. Young women often are affected by a number of social factors -- sexism, sexual assault and abuse, and rape -- that diminish their level of self-respect and confidence in asking their partner to wear a condom” she elaborates.
Making HIV learning fun
At a Workshop held in early November, the team from AIESEC Malaysia, 3R and UNICEF delivered education to hundreds of young girls using entertainment, quizzes and games.
For any onlookers who might question if these school girls might be too young for a talk on AIDS or condoms or sexual relationships, the girls’ ‘come-hither’ moves reveal a healthy exposure to MTV, partying and another life outside school walls.
While the games produce laughter and cheers from the crowd, the messages behind them are serious: HIV does not discriminate; and careless and irresponsible actions like unprotected sex will help the smart virus win its battle against the young.
“You don’t get HIV from drugs but from sharing contaminated needles. You don’t get HIV from sex but from unprotected sex with an infected person, explains Geraldine. “You have to be very sensitive to what you’re saying. The objective is not to moralise and judge certain behaviour but to raise awareness about the dangers these actions can have on our lives.”
While the workshops enabled the girls to embrace the subject, it also taught them how to get protected and what they can do to play a greater role in the HIV and AIDS response in Malaysia.
Hope for greater empowerment
Geraldine’s main hope is to see the girls empowered. “Girls need to be encouraged to value and protect themselves. Prevention programs need to address these issues and equip adolescent and adult young women with the confidence and knowledge to make healthy decisions about themselves and HIV,” she adds.
The young activist who felt drawn to the AIDS cause after meeting several people living with HIV over the years is optimistically confident that there will be a new generation of young girls who are not afraid to step forward, and be proactive to prevention, rather than reactive.
“It’s been baby steps so far,” says Geraldine. “But I believe this will change.”
About AIESEC MALAYSIA
World AIDS Day 2007
1 December 2007
Unite against AIDS
• The Malaysian Launch
4 March 2008:
17 November 2007:
10 November 2007:
5 November 2007:
6 May 2007:
20 May 2007:
8 January 2007:
22 May 2006: