Healthy Relationships
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Sexual Health Exchange

The October, 1998 issue of Sexual Health Exchange—a quarterly newsletter/magazine co-published by the Royal Tropical Institute (The Netherlands) and Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service (Zimbabwe)—features an article about Healthy Relationships.

This publication's Editorial Advisors are a truly international collection of experts—from Argentina, Ghana, Peru, Italy, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Israel, Tanzania, India, Germany, Trinidad and Tobago, and Egypt!

You may send subscription requests, articles and letters to: Sexual Health Exchange, Information, Library and Documentation Department, Royal Tropical Institute, P.O. Box 95001, 1090 HA Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Country Watch — Canada

In 1994 a group of teachers and communicators in Nova Scotia - "Men For Change" - developed a violence-prevention curriculum called Healthy Relationships. The curriculum focuses on the relationship between gender and violence as well as on the elements of healthy relationships. It is used primarily in health and family studies classes of public and private secondary schools, and by child welfare agencies women's centres, youth organizations, juvenile detention centres, battered women's shelters, community health centres, conflict resolution centres, and a variety of community groups.

In order to lead into the material in a way that engages young people, the curriculum adapted "Act-Like-a-Man" and "Be-Ladylike" stereotype boxes originally developed by the Oakland Men's Project in California. Students are asked what it means to be a "real man" and "a lady" in today's society. The young men and women usually respond with gender stereotypes such as "strong", "muscly" and "breadwinner" for men and "passive", "caring" and "beautiful" for women.

When asked where they learned these messages, the students realize they come from the media, etc. They are then able to assert their own values, going beyond the stereotypes. This becomes a valuable reference point for further activities that introduce the "Power and Control and "Equality Wheel" developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Minnesota.

Dartmouth High School students Dartmouth High School students draw up a list of what their classmates believe are the ingredients of a healthy relationship.

The Power and Control Wheel shows the different ways that power can be abused in a relationship (such as through intimidation, name-calling, humiliation, isolation, physical abuse and economic dependency). The Equality Wheel shows the qualities that are enjoyed in relationships where power is shared (respect, trust and support, honesty and accountability, non-threatening behaviour, etc.). By developing an analysis of gender stereotypes, students begin to see the destructiveness that can result from an imbalance of power between the sexes.

It is not difficult to envision the violence that might occur if a muscly breadwinner and a passive caregiver disagree. Through role-plays and group activities, students are taught the consequences of abuse of power, the importance of assertiveness, and alternatives to aggressive behaviour.

Currently in the second year of a three-year evaluation of Healthy Relationships, the Manitoba Research Centre on Family Violence and Violence Against Women has reported preliminary findings that indicate students are learning some of the key lessons presented. The pre-and post tests indicated a significant change from aggressive to assertive responses: boys were more inclined to oppose dating violence that they witness; students learned to identify stereotypes and hidden messages in magazine ads and they learned to distinguish when personal boundaries were crossed.

Numerous discussions with teachers, guidance counsellors and other facilitators indicate that teenagers respond to the material quickly; it retains their interest because it deals with subjects that are important to them.

Students taught with the Healthy Relationships curriculum at Cavalier Drive School in Nova Scotia responded as follows to an assignment about gender stereotypes:

"Being a man in our society today may be very unhealthy. For instance, if the woman thinks we should act or smell just a certain way, she may be disappointed that the man she is dating is not a 'real man' and 'outside the box'. If a woman thinks of a man that way it may lead to an unhealthy relationship. It may also be hard to be a woman if a man's expectations of her are not fulfilled. Then he may get abusive."

"Sometimes when we get into a relationship we may expect our partner to fulfill the stereotypes of their sex. One partner may think they have more power by telling the other what to do. Attitudes should be formed after learning stuff about the other person. You shouldn't get into a relationship until you know about what they expect of you and what you expect of them."

Much of the learning takes place as a result of classroom discussion and role-plays rather than through lecture-style presentations of information. At some schools and other institutions the curriculum has become one component of an overal violence-prevention strategy. Its greatest success is in schools where the curriculum enjoys the support of administration at the highest levels.

Although the 53 classroom activities of the Healthy Relationships curriculum are user-friendly, some teachers and youth workers feel much more comfort able with the material after in-service training. This is not always possible because of budget constraints. Normally, individual teachers and youth workers embrace the programme, use it, and word begins to spread.

Peter Davison and Roger Davies
Healthy Relationships co-developers Peter Davison (centre) and Roger Davies (left) with junior highschool administrator Sandra Best in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia: facilitating the "Act Like a Man/Be Ladylike" activity.

Most implementations have occurred from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. One notable exception is the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Juvenille Court and Community Schools Division, which piloted Healthy Relationships in late 1997 in 11 young offender facilities. A second group was trained in March 1998 to expand this implemenation. Some of the teachers involved in the first pilot have reported that the young people (predominantly boys) are learning to deal with their anger assertively rather than aggressively.

"The boys have had problems in relation to sexuality. This is both in terms of sexual acting out of problems and sexual perpetrating. We have found [Healthy Relationships] a very useful reference and resource,"

Susan Rich,
Children's Aid Society of Ottawa-Carleton

In some jurisdictions, the exclusion of racism and multicultural perspectives has limited its acceptance. The co-developers are planning to expand the scope of Healthy Relationships to address these issues in the next edition.

For more information please contact:
Andrew Safer: Phone (902) 422-8476

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How to purchase Healthy Relationships Curriculum

You can reach the developers and publishers of Healthy Relationships Curriculum through any of the following means:
Phone: (902) 457-4351
Fax: (902) 457-4597

We look forward to hearing from you.

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