Sonja Ghaderi is Project Manager of 'Curious: Sex and Relationships for young newcomers,’ a relationship and sexuality education programme for young migrants in Sweden which is led by IPPF’s Swedish Member Association, RFSU.
Could you give me a little background to the work RFSU is doing to provide relationship and sexuality education for young newcomers in Sweden?
Sexual and reproductive health is a part of most people's lives. But when you come to a new country you might not get the information you need because issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) aren’t talked about or you can’t access the information in a language you understand. Migrants come from a lot of different contexts so it's a very diverse group, but what we have seen is that you cannot wait. You cannot wait for information on sexual and reproductive health.
So, in 2011, one of our local entities, RFSU Gothenburg developed materials to be able to conduct sexuality education in basic Swedish. The information that you get is practically the same as sexuality education at school only that some parts are more basic and it was made more accessible with pictures and by using simple language used to raise literacy on body parts and so on. We then have peer educators (aged 20 – 30) who have been trained on how to use the materials – they learn how to express themselves in easier Swedish and to understand needs that are prevalent among migrants, and how experiences of racism can have a negative impact on SRHR. An anti-racist perspective permeates everything we do.
How do you incorporate anti-racism into relationship and sexuality education?
We build the capacity of our peers that have not had the experience of migrating to Sweden and ask them to reflect on questions like: What is racism? How is it expressed in society today? How are exotification ('exotification' sexualizes and objectifies people according to harmful and stereotyped ideas about race) and sexualisation connected to racism?
We also talk about norms on 'whiteness', like how there is a norm that categorizes people according to the colour of our skin and how this informs our daily interactions. Because unfortunately, many of the youth that come to Sweden experience this and it's something they have to struggle with everyday.
Are all of your sessions done in Swedish?
Up until 2016 we mainly had activities in basic Swedish, but we noticed a need for translated materials for people working in healthcare services. So we gathered reference groups to see what support migrants would need to be able to learn about SRHR and we then made twelve movies in 14 different languages which care providers now use to provide information when sitting with a patient, student or meeting migrants in other contexts. So if your patient lacks basic information on menstruation, pregnancy, lust and pleasure, any theme that these movies have, you can watch them together and stop if the person has questions on a certain subject.
How important is it for migrants to be able to get information on sexuality and relationships in their own language?
I think you need the knowledge in your own language because – I mean even now I have difficulties expressing myself in English sometimes, even though I consider myself fluent. Imagine then you come to a new country, how many years would it take for you to learn a new language? So yes, you need translated information on SRHR, because in your mother tongue it goes right into your heart.
Also, you shouldn’t need to learn Swedish to access important information, otherwise there is a risk that the rights that everyone have are not enjoyed by persons who have recently come to Sweden or have been here without knowing Swedish.
Have you noticed whether there are particular questions that young newcomers ask in your sexuality education sessions?
Practically everyone is excited and thankful to have the opportunity to talk about issues around sexuality, norms, relationships, as it might be the first time for many of them. One of the things we talk about is masturbation, because many have heard that it is dangerous and that you should not engage in it. So we talk about that. Another common question is ‘how can I find someone to date?’ Or ‘I want to flirt with someone, how do I do it?’.
Do you think it’s important to take a sex-positive approach to sexuality education?
Yes! Sex can be so many enjoyable things and so many difficult things, so when we talk to youth and adults we try to encompass everything. For us the lust perspective is very important because most people are curious and think of sex as something exciting and thrilling. With that as a starting point, you can also talk about the difficult aspects.
One final question – has there been a particular moment in your work when you felt that you were doing something important?
Recently, I was training teachers that work with newly arrived youth and we had a session on racism and how exotification and racism affect discussions of sexuality. Afterwards some of them said they were now reflecting on how they interact and that they might change the way they talk a bit. It’s when you notice that there's an 'aha' moment – that they perhaps reflect on their own privilege and what they need to do to make the world more equal.
Interview conducted by Eimear Sparks, IPPF EN