Why educate peers?
The idea behind peer education is that people in similar situations have similar experiences and can therefore understand and influence each other. This is particularly true of youth who are inﬂuenced to a large extent by their peers and the attitudes and behaviours that are accepted as normal in these groups. While many group norms are positive, others create negative ideas such as those that sustain gender inequality and normalise violence against women. These group norms form part of the larger societal acceptance of violence.
“Before being trained as a Rape Crisis peer educator, I used to think that if someone is raped it is often because of something they did. I also thought that when you marry a woman, you can have sex with her whenever you want.”
“I thought that if someone was raped they would get over it. I didn’t know that rape could cause so much pain to someone.”
An important focus of peer education programmes is therefore encouraging youth to critically examine these destructive norms through participatory activities, openly sharing ideas, building knowledge and skills, and fostering new attitudes that challenge the acceptance of rape and gender violence.
What roles do peer educators play?
Peer educators are a valuable resource in their schools and perform important roles. As educators, they are able to provide important information such as what to do after rape and where to get support. As role models amongst their peers they demonstrate attitudes that respect women and don’t condone victim blaming and justification of violence. They serve as supporters of peers who have experienced rape or sexual assault by not judging them and referring them to Rape Crisis for further support. As advocates they raise awareness of the myths surrounding rape and victim’s rights through various campaigns and activities.
“My plan is to use my new skills to make sure that everyone in my class knows what to do if they have been raped, and where they can get medical help and counselling.”
“I want to be able to help rape survivors in my school by listening to them, telling them it is not their fault and encouraging them to get support. I want to also make sure that all the students have information about rape to take home because many parents don’t know important things about rape.”
“I want to talk to my classmates about rape so that if someone has been raped they will not feel ashamed about it and won’t be scared to speak up.”
What makes peer education programmes so successful?
The success of peer education programmes rests on several factors:
- Adolescents are more comfortable discussing issues related to sex with their peers than adults. There are also sometimes cultural factors prohibiting this.
- Adolescents share the social context of their peers and know what is important to them.
- Adolescents identify with one another through the development of group norms. Peer education groups create a space in which to challenge these norms.
- Peer educators serve as role models to their peers; young people more readily adopt behaviours modelled by people similar to them.
- Their participation in problem solving and decision making increases their agency and empowers them to take ownership of the issue.
- Through the development of leadership skills peer educators have the potential to become future community leaders
Investing in youth leadership is essential for social change. Peer education programmes support the development of skills and enable peer educators to provide leadership on issues surrounding gender violence and through their peer interactions mobilise and empower others to so the same. Rape Crisis’s peer educators serve as ambassadors of the organisation as they go out into their communities with a new message and the skills to affect change.
“I want to be a leader in my community and make sure that everyone knows how to support a rape survivor. I want the youth to be able to speak up against rape so that we can do something about it and not live in fear.”