A research project on youth, sexual health and the cultural landscapes of gender and sexuality in Nordic/Baltic/N.W. Russian times of transition.
Living for Tomorrow is a NIKK project that was based in Estonia in collaboration with the Tallinn AIDS Prevention Centre. It was a three-year development and research project (1998-2000) aimed at developing sexual health awareness and safer sexual behaviours among young people, with a focus on gender, youth perspectives and active learning processes.
The overall Aims of the Project
- To facilitate critical discussions of how gender traditions affect sexual risk behaviours among young people
- To spawn new sexual health initiatives that energise and enable youth-centred health awareness focused on gender issues
- To strengthen networking/co-operation and new cross-cultural discussions of sexual health and gender
Context of the Project
- The continuing advance of HIV epidemic – over 60 million people had been infected globally, with numbers rising. In 2002 UNAIDS warned that the HIV pandemic is only beginning.
- As of 1999, the World Health Organisation acknowledged AIDS as the world’s most deadly infectious disease. This is the most devastating epidemic in world history.
- Youth aged 15-24 and women are highly vulnerable for HIV infection. Some 60% of new HIV infections continue to occur among people under 24.
- The Eastern Baltic rim and other post-Soviet countries include some of the fastest HIV infection rates. Infection numbers doubled in Eastern Europe in 2000 alone.
- From low infection numbers in 1998, but with conditions ripe for HIV spread that are found in various forms in many parts of the world, during the time span of this project Estonia came to illustrate by 2001 the fast devastatingly high HIV spread rates.
- The absence of focus on understanding and changing gender norms in sexual safety education is one key factor in the disconnect between HIV “awareness” and actual safer behaviour practices. The urgent need persists for more effective sexual health awareness that looks at how gender issues influence young people’s sexual behaviour.
- There has been huge ewcalation of cross-border mobility with richer countries, sex tourism, commercial sex work, drug use in post- Soviet countries, where there is economic instability, lack of local resources. The experience of poverty among youth in many parts of the world is affected by media imports from the West with their commercial and cultural focus on sex.
- Nordic gender research is keen to build collaboration with colleagues in neighbouring Baltic countries and N.W. Russia
Action Processes and Activites
The first phase of the Living for Tomorrow project took place in 1998. It entailed bringing together people from gender research, sexual health and education in “capacity building” training sessions to explore new methods for approaching gender-focused sexual safety with young people.
In spring 1999, a core group from the capacity building launched the second phase of the project. They organised sexual health workshops with teenagers from Estonian and Russian families in Tallinn. The workshops facilitated active participation and a two-way learning process for the youths and adults involved.
The third phase of the project (spring 1999 – winter 2000) was spent doing follow-up work from the training sessions and workshops. The teenagers involved began to produce new kind of sexual health information materials. In addition, data was collected from Nordic and Baltic countries on teen attitudes about men, women and sex, both informing the project while underway and providing material for project publications and comparative analyses.
Throughout the duration of the project, developing collaborative links have been high priorities – especially with Lithuania, Russia, England, the Nordic countries, but also with other European countries. Joint articles, research exchanges, the development of an advisory group were the bases for the project’s international co-operation.
The Living for Tomorrow Bibliography 2001 (pdf) of background information, projects and analyses, articles, books, resource packs useful to the project.
Project Collaborators and Contacts:
Jill Lewis, Researcher, Professor of Literature and Gender Studies
Hampshire College, Amherst, USA
Project Base in Estonia:
Nelli Kalikova, National AIDS co-ordinator and Director
Sirle Blumberg, Director of Living for Tomorrow NGO
Estonian AIDS Prevention Centre, Tallinn
Key Project Consultant:
Stephen Clift, Professor of Health Education
Centre for Health Education and Research (CHER), Canterbury Christ Church University College
Best Practice Program by UNAIDS
The NIKK Living for Tomorrow research and action project was named as one of two best practice projects by the UNAIDS in a report going to the UN General Assembly in 2003. The project was complimented for its gender-focused approach, for getting young people to critically reflect on their assumptions about gender-appropriate sexual behaviours and their consequences for young women and young men; for developing an understanding of the importance of gender in relation to HIV/AIDS among young people and for making the young people understand the importance of their efforts in helping to stem the spread of HIV among young people. Read the article here (pdf).
The Living for Tomorrow NGO
In autumn 1999 the core-group of the Living for Tomorrow project in Tallinn decided to found there own NGO. The NGO is basing its prevention and sexual education work on the gender sensitive and participatory methods of Living for Tomorrow. The establishment of the NGO was an unexpected but very welcome spin-off of the living for tomorrow project. For more information please contact Sirle Blumberg head of the NGO.