VIGOR’s main project is to train people from different language groups to become mentors in sexual health. The training takes 27 hours, and after completing the training, the mentors arrange events within their communities to discuss issues related to sexuality and sexual health in their own languages. They are free to pass on the information in any ways they see most suitable for their target groups.
Training mentors in sexual health who understand minority languages and cultures is a necessary approach in Finland. Based on a questionnaire that VIGOR conducted, 93 % of respondents thought that persons with foreign background in Finland need better information on sexual health. 94 % thought that professionals need more knowledge and tools for dealing with sexuality in multicultural encounters. Most of the respondents were health care professionals or worked with related topics.
“Every community already has a lot of information and their own ways of dealing with things, and this wisdom should be made visible. Not so that we just pour information to ’them’.”
“Sexual health is a topic that is often perceived challenging to discuss, especially with immigrant clients. Because of this, the focus should be on [health care] professionals’ know-how, expertise and sensitivity, and there should be more opportunities to educate oneself regarding this.”Quotes from VIGOR questionnaire responses
Challenging conventional sexual education
Traditional Finnish ways of lecturing about sexual health are not as effective anymore, as target groups are multicultural and have distinct values. Sexual education at home might differ dramatically from sexual education at school, which can leave teenagers with controversial feelings.
Young people should not carry the weight of controversial teachings on their shoulders alone. It is the duty of the authorities – teachers, health care professionals, and parents – to understand and respect each other’s views.
VIGOR aims to create safe spaces for people from different backgrounds and values to discuss intimate issues. VIGOR-mentors possess factual knowledge about sexual health, and they are committed to sexual rights and the Finnish law. They also know the socio-cultural realities and the language of the target groups. The mentors’ task is to facilitate respectful dialogue, and sensitively challenge harmful views.
Cultural sensitivity is needed when discussing intimate issues. Customs such as female genital mutilation (FGM) can be incomprehensive to a Finnish nurse, which might affect how (s)he relates to a person who perceives FGM beneficial. To get rid of such harmful customs, however, it is necessary to listen and understand.
As one VIGOR-mentor put it:“we must understand, but we do not have to accept.”
Cultural and religious knowledge as an asset in mentoring
As many of the VIGOR-mentors are Muslims, the theme of Islam and sexuality has been present in the mentor training sessions. There are false assumptions of Islam and sexuality within the Finnish society, but also Muslims share some of them. For example – unlike the common argument goes – Islam does not support FGM, nor does it deny contraception.
Religion should not be considered something “on the way” of sexual health or sexual rights education. On the contrary, as some Muslim mentors noted, Quran offers content that can be beneficial in mentoring.
For example, Islam requires one to have clean body and clothes during salah-prayers five times a day. For people who suffer from, for example, urinary incontinence, using the right type of sanitary towel makes it easier to keep oneself clean. This way religion can be utilised in approaching the subject of intimate hygiene.
The strength of VIGOR-mentors is their capability to understand and translate two realities. Cultural sensitivity is especially important with intimate issues. VIGOR-mentors can use their knowledge to pass on knowledge to their diasporic communities, and to Finnish health care professionals.