Hesperian Health Guides
Working for Change
Activities to improve sexual health
Improving sexual health requires changing harmful gender roles and removing barriers to sexual health. This is a long-term process that can take generations, but change begins with us. In many communities, women have formed groups to reflect and talk about these issues. Here are 3 group activities to promote reflection and action to improve sexual health in your community.
Activity A journey through time
As women, the way we feel about our sexuality depends on beliefs we were taught as girls, and on the experiences we have during our lives. In order to develop a pleasurable and healthy sexuality, it is important to understand our beliefs and feelings about what it means to be a woman. You can use this activity with a group of women to begin thinking about gender roles.
It is important to allow enough time for this activity, and to create a peaceful environment. Strong feelings can come out, so it is better if the women already know each other well, or if the group or the facilitator have experience working with personal subjects. It helps to start by setting some rules so that everyone feels safe (for example, that nobody will interrupt, or laugh, or tell others what was said).
Ask the women to form a circle and make themselves comfortable. Tell them they are going to take a trip back in time. The landscape is the history of their sexuality. Ask them to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and imagine themselves as little girls. Speaking calmly and slowly, ask questions like the ones below. (You can adapt them so they are appropriate for your group.) The women do not need to reply, just to remember. Wait several minutes before asking the next question.
- How did you first realize that being a girl was different from being a boy?
- How did you feel the first time you had your monthly bleeding? What had you been told about it?
- What was your sexual experience like? What had you expected?
- Have you ever been worried that you had an STI? Did you go for help?
- Have you ever given birth? How did it affect your feelings about your sexuality? When you were pregnant, did you hope for a girl or a boy? Why?
- Returning to the present, what feelings do you have about your sexual life?
- What makes a woman a woman? What makes a man a man?
- How did you learn what it means to be a woman or a man?
- What do you like about being a woman? What do you not like?
- If you could be born again as a male, would you do it? Why or why not?
Activity Images of women in popular culture
If people understand how harmful ideas about sexuality and gender roles are learned, they can begin to think about how to change those ideas. This activity will help people think about how radio, movies, popular songs, and advertising communicate ideas about gender roles.
- Listen to some popular songs on the radio (record them ahead of time if you can) or have members of the group sing or act out the songs. Listen carefully to the words of the songs. How are women and men being described? Are these songs passing on ideas about women’s roles and sexuality? Decide together whether each ‘gender’ message is harmful or helpful to women.
- Divide into small groups. Give each group an advertisement cut out of a magazine or newspaper, or copied from a billboard (pick advertisements that have women in them). Ask each group to identify what the advertisements say about women’s roles and sexuality. Then, bring everyone together again to say what messages are being passed on in each advertisement. Then decide as a group whether the messages are harmful or helpful to women.
- Discuss how messages about women are passed on by radio, songs, and advertisements. How do these ideas influence us, our husbands, our children?
- Identify ideas about women’s roles and sexuality that are important and helpful to pass on. How can these ideas be communicated in advertisements, songs, and movies? Ask small groups to draw an advertisement, or prepare a song or a skit that teaches helpful and healthy ideas about women. Have each group present their work to the others.
Activity Identifying barriers to sexual health
It is important to identify the barriers to practicing safer sex. This activity helps show some of the reasons why women may have trouble protecting themselves.
- Begin by telling a story, like “Fátima’s story”. Talk about Fátima and Emanuel as if they lived in your community.
- Start a discussion about the importance of understanding the risks of sex by asking questions like: Why didn’t Fátima protect herself from AIDS? What difficulties do women like Fátima face if they try to practice safer sex? Why do women find it hard to talk with their partners about safer sex? What can women do to convince their partners to practice safer sex?
- Talk about what can be done in your community to help women like Fátima. Discuss how you can help to overcome barriers to safer sex in your community. (For ideas, see Working for safer sex in the community.)