This post comes from the Life in my Shoes Campaign Director Emily
We’re particularly proud of the response we’ve been getting from schools who’ve invited us to deliver sessions. The great thing about the activities and film is that the message of challenging stigma goes far beyond HIV. We ask the public to step into the shoes of some of the most marginalised people in society. Everything that we do, whether it’s celebrity-backed competitions, high-profile events, school lessons, films and exhibitions, is centered on our desire to nurture natural empathy and challenge the damaging stigma that we know young people experience.
To do this, we have to start with education. We know that ignorance and fear often walk hand in hand, especially with HIV. We know that to truly change prejudicial beliefs, we need to educate around the HIV facts.
The Life in my Shoes resource teaches these facts in a clear and concise way so there can be no misunderstandings. We ask classes to think about the impact of HIV, secrets, stigma and difference on young people living with HIV. We know our approach works and that we are making a difference.
But it’s not easy to get these powerful messages across in schools who already have a jam packed curriculum and don’t have a statutory requirement to teach PSHE. Teachers we spoke to highlighted particular challenges, including resistance among some schools – particularly faith schools – to allow space for HIV to be taught in any depth. While some teachers had personally decided to teach their students about HIV, they were concerned about the inconsistency associated with relying on lone teachers to address the topic in the absence of a statutory requirement to teach about HIV in schools.
Some of the teachers also felt that where schools only teach about HIV as part of sex education it encourages HIV to be viewed in terms of ‘safety’, ‘protection’ and ‘managing risk’. Some of the teachers we spoke to felt that schools often use scare tactics to teach their students about HIV, which reinforce negative stereotypes and stigma.
Individuals and organizations such as The National Aids Trust, Sex Education Forum and PSHE Association are lobbying to make PSHE statutory and until we see a commitment from government to give this area the attention is deserves, young people will continue to face unnecessary obstacles to getting information and safe platforms to discuss these important issues.