Conversations about sexual health have been a long standing taboo in Cambodia. The lack of awareness and formal education about sexual health among children and youth results in passing fears and misconceptions from one generation to the next, and ultimately to high rates of early pregnancy, many times leading to early child marriage.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands has been operating in Cambodia to address this problem, especially in indigenous communities where the taboo is even stronger. By engaging with local health authorities and community members, the project has helped children and youth to be informed about their rights and educated about their sexual reproductive health. However, communication about sexual health with children and youth remains challenging, even among TDHNL’s adult staff and partners because of cultural and social norms.
To create open and benevolent dialogue with children and youth, TDHNL partnered with Catherine Harry, a popular vlogger and feminist in Cambodia. Through her online platform “A Dose of Cath”, she openly discusses various topics around sexual reproductive health (including consent and menstruation) and also brings attention to domestic abuse and violence against women.
Through this experience of reaching thousands of youth in Cambodia, Harry has a deep understanding of how to communicate on these taboo topics. This made it ideal for TDHNL to collaborate with Harry to share her insights to the organisation’s staff in the field.
In her first coaching session with TDHNL project staff, Harry provided tips on how to communicate with youth/children by being honest with them and gaining their trust. In order to encourage them to openly discuss and ask questions about sexual health, Harry emphasized on using scientific terminology to help cut-off shyness and allowing everyone to speak freely without interruption. Harry also highlighted that appropriate language is important as child/youth participants might be victims of gender-based violence or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Thanks to this initial session, our project team will be better equipped to raise these sensitive questions with children and youth in the context of our project to reduce early child marriage. Terre des Hommes Netherlands is excited to continue working with her and to continue empowering Cambodian children and youth to make informed decisions about sexual reproductive health.