Tags: Indonesia, peer researcher, sexuality study, SRHR, young researchers, youth voices
When you were a teenager how did you feel if an adult asked you about sex? Embarrassed, awkward, defensive? Most people would answer with negative words like these. However if the questions came from someone your own age, it’s likely some different feelings might come up. Perhaps curious, interested, excited? Eager to share your experiences or ask questions?
When we are asked questions by someone we trust, someone who understands our world, we tend to be much more open than if it’s someone who feels very different from us. The more sensitive the topic the truer this is. It’s one of the reasons why we involve young people in research about young people’s sexuality at Rutgers.
But it’s not only about getting better data. Involving young people also has a range of other benefits, to young people themselves and to the research.
As the lead for Rutgers’ Youth Voices research project in Indonesia, I was lucky enough to hear first-hand from young researchers about the impact that being involved in the research had on them. Youth Voices was a qualitative research project exploring how messages and expectations around gender and sexuality influence young people in Indonesia.
The young researchers we hired had mostly just finished their bachelor’s degrees. They explained that the work experience gave them valuable skills that they saw as useful to include on their CVs and use in their wider lives. These competencies included research skills like interviewing and analysis and softer skills such as time management, planning and active listening. The young researchers also talked about becoming more self-confident. In Indonesia, strong social taboos around sexuality mean that many young people have limited knowledge about sex and sexuality. The young researchers explained that they learnt a lot about sexuality through their involvement in the research and in some cases changed their views to be more accepting of taboo topics like abortion. Meanwhile older researchers explained how they learnt to trust young people more and give them more opportunities.
However involving young people in research, especially around sexuality, does not come without challenges. Older researchers have to get used to new ways of working, and gate keepers providing access to research participants (e.g. head teachers) may see it as inappropriate for young people to ask about sexuality. In both these cases it’s vital to build strong relationships and take time to underline the added value of young people being involved. Young people may also struggle with the research if it’s not designed in a way that acknowledges their level of skill and experience. Quality training and ongoing mentoring support is vital if young people are to participate in a meaningful way.
There’s also an important role for senior researchers and programme staff involved in research projects like ours to help create space and platforms for young researchers to share their results and engage in dialogue with decision makers.
“For us, a key lesson learned is that we should pro-actively and from the start discuss with project partners and stakeholders what constitutes ‘academic’ research and question who decides what knowledge we take seriously and what not.”
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