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Peer education: widely used but wildly undervalued

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11 August 2022 Tags: CSE, Kenya, Peer education, research, sexual and reproductive health and rights, SRHR, Young People

Peer education is a widely used strategy in sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programmes for young people. Yet measurement of its effectiveness often focuses on a narrow set of outcomes. As a result its effectiveness is often questioned. New research has found that the impact of peer education actually extends far beyond improving young people’s access to and uptake of sexual and reproductive health services.

The research, done as part of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded Get Up, Speak Out programme in Kisumu and Siaya Counties in Kenya, showed that peer educators also improved the quality for sexual and reproductive health services for young people. They acted as intermediary and exchanged feedback between young clients and health care providers that helped ensure young people’s needs were met.

Every peer educator interviewed stressed the importance of sharing information with other young people. Peer educators went above and beyond their prescribed roles and responsibilities. Many of them described taking on personal responsibilities for the well-being of young people in their communities. Being seen as a role model and mentor in the community was a badge of honour.

Much of the content shared by peer educators could be described as general life coaching or counselling on relationships with parents; teenage behaviour; peer pressure; drug use; friendships; life goals; education and more.

“I have spoken with teenage mothers on how to take care of themselves, how to relate in community and to their parents to reduce conflicts, addressing issues of unsafe abortion, problems of drug and substance abuse and avoiding bad company.” Peer educator, Siaya

Community support

The study found that peer educators increased the support and involvement of groups in their communities, such as parents, churches, teachers, police officers, school administrators, teachers etc, and, as a result, were able to share their ideas more freely. As a result of greater acceptance from their communities, peer educators gained access to platforms through which they could highlight issues of importance to them, including adolescent sexuality, teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortion, return to schools for pregnant girls and young mothers, drug use, justice for survivors of sexual violence and reduction in child marriage.

“Some churches didn’t allow [SRH education], but through our efforts, now they are giving us that platform, that is a great achievement.”GUSO staff member, Kisumu

Gender norm transformation

Study participants reported many examples of changes in gender norms brought about by peer education. These included greater value being placed on girls’ education, including for pregnant girls and young mothers; greater acceptance of girls desiring relationships; positive views of girls who do not follow traditional gender roles; encouragement for the sharing of responsibilities between boys and girls; and community mobilisation to encourage reporting and prosecution in cases of sexual violence.

Study participants mentioned change in relation to the reporting of sexual violence in their communities. One peer educator explained:

“I think it is a bit easier now to get community support for arrests of defilements {perpetrators} especially among relatives.”

Youth economic empowerment

By working together, peer educators used their new networks to create economic opportunities for themselves and other young people. Peer educators in Siaya and Kisumu Counties formed small groups called chamas that evolved into community welfare services, saving schemes and business groups.

Some chamas started enterprises that made and sold baked food, sanitary towels and jewellery, whilst others started grocery and tree seedling planting businesses.

The ripple effects of this entrepreneurship were evident at various levels of the community.

Peer educators engaged other young people in these economic endeavours, thus expanding their collective economic power.

From wildly undervalued to more recognition and better measurement

Peer educators play an invaluable interlocutor role, ensuring the effectiveness and accountability of sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes. But, without a better measurement framework, peer educators will remain wildly unrecognised.

The findings of this study show the need for the sexual and reproductive health and rights community to recognise and value peer educators’ contributions. As a result, programmes should be designed to include peer education and go beyond a narrow set of health-related  outcomes and select innovative indicators to monitor and evaluate youth sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes.

Peer education: Widely used, Wildly undervalued

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