GGC youth Members Krista Gladney and Khatija Essaji are currently attending a global HIV/AIDS seminar at the Sangam World Centre. Check what they’ve learned about how Girl Guides can help girls of all ages better understand HIV/AIDS and protect their own health.
Today is World AIDS day, a day to be reminded that HIV/AIDS has not gone away. This year’s theme is “Getting to Zero”. Zero new infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.
Currently, 34 million people around the world are infected with HIV and many million more are affected by the virus’ devastating effects. In Canada, 25 per cent of those infected have NO IDEA of their positive HIV status. You can imagine the vicious cycle that develops if each person in that group goes on to infect just one other person, then that person infects another, and so on. A third of all new infections occur in youth, age 15-24.
As Guiders, working with youth, we must empower these girls and young women to take responsibility for their own health and sexuality to decrease this statistic. Through education, speaking out and taking action, we can reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) within our local organizations, across Canada and throughout the world.
One of the biggest concerns Guiders have regarding this topic is how to talk about these issues with their girls at the appropriate level. Discussing sex, sexuality and drug use can be difficult and/or embarrassing. Avoiding these issues, however, leads to ignorance with little or misinformed information about sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS or worse yet, an invulnerability, and belief that they cannot or will not contract HIV. Below, we offer a few helpful tips for conveying this information to girls.
- Toolkits – The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) has produced an HIV/AIDS advocacy toolkit and resources that help teach curriculum for the AIDS badge. Many other tool kits with age-appropriate activities can be found online.
- Get in contact with a local HIV/AIDS awareness group and/or health care professional – most HIV/AIDS non-governmental agencies have resources readily available, and provide education/outreach programs. They have volunteers knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS, who would be willing to come to your group meetings and discuss this topic with you.
- Inform your parents that you will be covering this topic – that way, if they have any concerns they can ask you right away and you can clarify for them. Talking to the parents of your girls first may save you from a difficult phone call later.
- Share the information without lecturing – try to explore concepts through games, songs, and other activities. The girls are more likely to remember the information if it is associated with something fun and interactive.
- Talking about HIV/AIDS to Sparks and Brownies – Many Guiders may think that talking about HIV/AIDS to Sparks is too heavy for them to grasp. And yes, if you teach them everything about it, they will end up very confused. The trick to approaching these kinds of topics with this age group is to keep it very general. You don’t need to get into any details about HIV/AIDS but you should start teaching them about germs, the importance of good health, how to stay healthy and how to protect themselves. At this age, you can also introduce them the importance of acceptance – just because someone is not exactly the same as you (shape, size, color, disability, disease) it does not mean they can’t be your friend.
- Talking about HIV/AIDS to Guides – Guides can handle a little more information. At this age, they would likely have some information about menstruation and sexuality. This is the perfect age to start clarifying some myths that exist about transmission. Without getting into an excessive amount of detail about how it is transmitted, you should definitely emphasize the ways that it is NOT transmitted (kissing, holding hands, from the air, from a toilet seat, from the swimming pool, etc.). This could easily be turned into a fun, interactive game. You may want to give them a basic lesson about HIV, how it is treated and be sure to emphasize that there is not cure. You could let them know about World AIDS day and about the significance of the red ribbon.
- Talking about HIV/AIDS to Pathfinders and Rangers – with the older girls you can have an open and honest conversation. It is important to create an environment where no one is judged and the information disclosed remains within the group. Because the girls hear about sex in songs, movies, advertising, etc. they will definitely have a lot of questions and want clarification on many rumours that they hear at school and from friends. Try not to be shocked by their questions. Stressing prevention is very important. While there is treatment for HIV, there is no cure. Empowering these young women to take control of their health will give them the power to make positive decisions towards their well-being.
We are currently in India at Sangam World Center, participating in an HIV/AIDS advocacy seminar with participants from 9 other countries. We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have once we return. We hope that you participate in local World AIDS Day activities and that you stay HIV POSITIVE – positive about education, positive about awareness and positive about support.
By GGC youth Members Krista Gladney and Khatija Essaji.
- The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Position Statement on Fighting HIV and AIDS.
- The WAGGGS’ HIV/AIDS advocacy toolkit
- WAGGGS’ AIDS Badge Curriculum.
Tell us! Do you think it part of a Guider’s role to educate her girls about HIV/AIDS?
Pathfinder Guider Mary Lou shared another great resource with us. This is a video made by youth for youth at the Rotary Club of Belleville. Wonderful tool to share with youth and adults.
I would like to commend you on your efforts to educate young girls about AIDS/HIV. I believe that it is necessary to equip youth with the tools they need to make wise choices.
Every 3 years (once in the time a girl is a pathfinder) we have an AIDS night. We invite a public health nurse and someone who works with AIDS advocacy in to talk to the girls. They talk about the spread of the disease and protection and by request will hand out condoms – non lubricated – for their camp survival kits (check out the TREX toolbox for kit list). We’ve played games (spread the virus) and even made water balloons from the condoms. Anything to lighten the topic but still get the message across.
One of the important things is to get parents permission for this presentation. They need to know there will be frank and open discussion. The feedback from the girls has been overwhelmingly positive. The girls especially like that there is no one making fun or pulling juvenile jokes like at school when topics of this nature are brought up. They like that they can process the info in a comfortable setting rather than a mixed classroom with both genders and varying values.
We also encourage the girls to talk freely at all meetings and outings about relationships and values. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to hear things as an adult but those girls deserve answers. Better from us than their peers.