"In all the years we’ve been working in the field, in the Netherlands and in developing countries, we’ve learned so much. The issues are different, but the core of it is the same: young people need information and services, and adults need to be explained that discussing sexuality does not encourage young people to engage in sex. The heart of what Rutgers does is addressing taboos and providing information, education and services in culturally appropriate ways. This starts with connecting to local people and organisations in the field. And that’s where we are. Especially in remote areas."
Create openness and break taboos
Miranda is a medical anthropologist who has worked at Rutgers for ten years. Her focus is on understanding adolescents, what sex and relationships mean to them, and how that affects their sexual behavior, health and wellbeing:
"Because of the lack of comprehensive sexuality education in developing countries, adolescents have many questions and insecurities around sexuality. Because of taboos they are afraid to ask these questions and since there’s no accurate information, they believe in myths - with all kinds of consequences like early pregnancies and sexual violence. What we do is involve these young people meaningfully in research, programs and advocacy. We don’t tell them what they should or should not do, but we discuss sexuality with them, both the positive and negative sides. We share facts, but also reflect on beliefs and values, without imposing our own. These are the first steps in breaking taboos and addressing sensitive issues. There’s this deep need in people to understand their bodies and feelings. We create openness and trust and from there people start sharing their feelings, experiences, concerns and even frustrations. Young people are the best gateway to change."
© Peter de Ruiter
Meaningful Youth Participation
What is key to improving SRHR in the world? Miranda explains about our ‘rights based approach’:
"First we acknowledge young people’s sexuality as a normal part of life and wellbeing. Another important thing is to stimulate the participation of young people in our programs, so called Meaningful Youth Participation. Those elements are essential when you want to create behavior change. For our interventions to be effective they need to make sense to young people and be responsive to their realities. We know their realties, because we speak with them constantly, with the help of so called, peer educators: young people who we train to be co-researchers. From the insights of our research we create appropriate solutions together with these peer educators and our local partners and stakeholders such as, the government, schools and community leaders."
“The heart of what Rutgers does is addressing taboos and providing information, education and services in culturally appropriate ways.”
Miranda van ReuwijkSenior researcher at Rutgers
Rutgers around the globe
Rutgers has expanded from an institute that provided contraceptives and information into a centre of expertise which shares its knowledge and experience all over the globe. How do you experience that?:
"In my job I have the opportunity to bring important issues from the ground to levels where there is power and influence. That leads to action and change, which keeps me passionate about my work. Building upon a solid foundation of research, advocacy and interventions. We optimize our interventions constantly. Not only through research and monitoring and evaluation, but we are also in a unique position to share evidence and knowledge across partner organisations and programmes. That way we are able to translate the latest scientific evidence into advocacy, program design, trainings and toolkits. To a large extend this means that we increase the capacity of our local partners to conduct and use research, and to create a safe environment to address sensitive topics. Rutgers is harvesting all the time. At the moment we are active in 18 countries! We will continue to contribute to improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of everyone around the world."
In 2010, the World Association for Sexual Health called all their organisations to celebrate, on each September 4th, World Sexual Health Day in an effort to promote a greater social awareness on sexual health across the globe.