By Rianna Raymond-Williams, Theme A, March Blog Editor (MSc in Reproductive and Sexual Health Research Candidate)
Rianna Raymond-Williams is the new MARCH Centre Blog Editor. In this blog Rianna talks to us about developing her career in youth sexual health, from health journalism to creating her own social enterprise and her current experience at LSHTM.
Tell us about your journey to date and how you started your career in youth sexual health?
My career in sexual health started as an accident, but as I look back on the last 8 years of both my academic and professional experience as a health practitioner, I’m glad to be a part of such a diverse field and even more so grateful for the opportunity to be the LSHTM MARCH Centre Blog Editor where I hope to shine a light on all the amazing work that is currently being done to support, address and advance maternal adolescent and child health globally.
I initially started my career in sexual at the age of 17 where I volunteered for a local sexual health steering group called Shine NHS in Newham East London – funnily enough 8 years on I work for the same service as a young person’s Development Worker where I deliver targeted sexual health sessions and play a role as sexual health adviser for our young people’s sexual health clinic providing contraceptive advice, STI and pregnancy testing, and sexual health advice to young people under 21.
But as mentioned, prior to this I volunteered for Shine NHS as part of a a youth steering group to influence the way in which sexual health was delivered in Newham, East London. We had the opportunity to create leaflets, run events and even deliver targeted sessions on sexual health and relationships to young people in youth hostels and community centres. Little did I know that all of this experience as a volunteer would pave the way for me to pursue a career in within the sexual health arena.
I then secured a job as a Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screener work for the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) where I worked for 5 years on the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP) in the UK to address the high prevalence of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea among young people under 25. Here I delivered outreach STI testing, condoms and sign posting at a range of venues and locations across East London to enhance the acceptability of screening among vulnerable sexually active young people.
According to The Terrence Higgins Trust Chlamydia is very common, it affects the 15-24 age group the most and, as it often has no symptoms, the only way to know if you have it is to test regularly.
Here I noticed very quickly that young people had a lot of misinformation about sex and relationships, which encouraged me to start my own venture to address the many burning questions young people had, in addition to providing a safe space for young people to learn, share and grow with each other. Alongside my part time work with THT, I was also studying for my undergraduate degree in Journalism at the University of Arts in London and my Diploma in Youth work at the George Williams YMCA College, at the time I was very busy, but very productive, and studying for both qualifications gave me the skills and knowledge I needed to launch and develop my social enterprise Shine ALOUD UK.
Alongside my career in sexual health promotion I have also worked as journalist, freelancing for the likes of Men’s Health Magazine, The Metro, MTV The Wrap Up, The Guardian, Don’t Panic Online and most recently The Voice Newspaper – Britain’s National Black Weekly Newspaper, where I currently cover the remit of community news, health and education.
What is Shine ALOUD UK and what work does your organisation do?
Shine ALOUD UK (SAUK) is a sexual health awareness social enterprise based in London. We use creative media and peer led training to change the perceptions and behaviour of young people under 25, in addition to empowering professional, parents and carers to start and maintain age appropriate, sex positive conversations and discussions with young people to address sensitive topics.
SAUK prides itself in empowering young people under 25 to make informed choices and decisions when negotiating sexuality. Although sex education in schools is now compulsory, it will take a while for the curriculum to become normalised and less taboo, in addition to incorporating new topics that include online grooming, child sexual exploitation and pornography.
So we hope that by doing the work that we do we can begin to address these gaps and make young people’s voices and experiences recognised and valued as part of the move towards change. The magazine has been running for the last 7 years. Since then we have created 7 publications and 1 animation. Shine ALOUD Magazine has been accessed by over 40,000 young people nationally and internationally, in addition to working with over 50 companies and organisations that work with young people nationally and internationally.
These include, Living Well, East London Foundation Trust, Woman Care Global, MBARC, ITV Fixers, Brook and more. We have been awarded funding and support from by O2 Think Big, The Alec Dickinson Trust, Starbucks Youth in Action, Arc Business in the Community and Lloyds Banking Group, in addition to featuring in publications such as The Guardian, The Voice Newspaper, The Stratford Recorder, NHS Trust Talk, The Newham Mag and London Live where I was interviewed about the launch of Issue 7 – our Self-love and Confidence issue – and the future of the brand.
As a result of my work with SAUK, I am now a Fellow of on The School for Social Entrepreneurs where and was a student on the 2013-14 Lloyds Start Up Program in addition to being previously nominated as a finalist for the JLS Young Person of the Year Award 2013 sponsored by FPA and Brook for my involvement in Sexual Health promotion and awareness.
Why is youth sexual health important and what is currently being done at the moment to address young people’s sexual health needs globally?
I’ve worked in sexual health promotion for the last 8 years working with MBARC, The Terrence Higgins Trust, University College London (UCL) and most recently the NHS here in London. In each of these positions I have worked with young people under 25 to promote safer sex messages, encourage sexual health testing and influence behaviour change.
Globally, sexual health is still very much a taboo subject for both young people and adults, but the reality is young people are having sex. Therefore, it is extremely important for young people to have the right information, guidance and support to effectively negotiation their sexual health and relationships, thereby allowing them to access contraception, sexual health support and counselling, testing and more.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”
Here we see that alongside the physical act of sex the mental and social well-being is also very important which is why peer education work and creative media play a huge role in addressing the sexual health challenges many young people face.
Research taken from WHO and UNFPA show:
- Young people 15 to 25 are at higher risk of sexually transmitted infection than other age groups due not having enough information on STI transmission and prevention.
- Many young people are at risk of unplanned pregnancies as a result of unmet need for contraception.
- Young people can experience problems like regretting sex, sexual pressure and sexual abuse, as a result of not having accurate information and understanding of consent.
- Some young people in minority groups can be more vulnerable than others such as – gay men, children in care, drug-using youth, some ethnic minority groups, transgender young people.
A report produced by the United Nations (UN) on International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education at the start of the year highlights the need for Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) for young people, which aims to reaffirms the position of sexuality education within a framework of human rights and gender equality. This approach aims to promote structured learning about sex and relationships in a manner that is positive, affirming, and centred on the best interest of the young person. By outlining the essential components of effective sexuality education programmes, the Guidance enables national authorities to design comprehensive curricula that will have a positive impact on young people’s health and well-being.
With all of this in mind, the reproductive and sexual health of young people and adolescents have become a growing priority of the global health agenda, giving rise to strategies and initiatives such as WHO Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, UNFPA’s Strategy on Adolescents and Youth, Towards Realizing the Full Potential of Adolescents Youth, International Day of the Girl Child and International Youth day, all of which feeds in to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
What have you gained from studying at LSHTM and how will this benefit your career now and in the future?
I enrolled at LSHTM in September 2016 after 3 years of being out of education. It has been an intense but motivating experience to study at the school. I have learnt so much and hope to continue expanding on this knowledge which I know will only help towards my development as a public health practitioner.
It has been enlightening and insightful to study the processes of health systems, as well as understanding the criteria that is used to evaluate the success and impact of a health intervention. I have gained an detailed understanding of family planning programs and health promotions approaches both of which are necessary for me to develop my social enterprise. Furthermore, the fact that all our work and studies are focused around working in low and middle income countries has provided me with a different perspective of how I can plan, deliver and assess projects and research now and in the future.
It has been an amazing experience to meet and speak with such a diverse community of public health professionals, all of whom are keen to create positive impact in the global health field and address many of the worlds key issues. In particular, as a Reproductive and Sexual Health Student it has been enlightening to study sexual health from an international perspective and have time and space to really grapple with key issues that impact the access and delivery of sexual health care worldwide.
As MARCH Blog Editor, I am keen to continue writing about all the relevant news, research, events and initiatives that are happening in the field as well as meeting, speaking and liaising with the many people on the ground who are making it all happen!
The picture featured in the header is taken from Issue 7 – Self Love and Confidence of SAUK where we discuss the issue of Gender Parity as part of the 2016 International Women’s Day Agenda, you can read this issue now for free here.
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