Sex is an important part of people’s lives, but it is somehow shrouded in secrecy, mystery and shame – which lead not only to misconceptions and myths, but also diseases and unintended pregnancies. Growing up as a child, I was luckily raised to talk openly about what changes I would experience during adolescence. I was ready when I got my first period. And I was ready for the changes that would follow. However, I was not ready to hear about how a classmate of mine would get pregnant in eighth grade and would be married in the same year. Adults get married – not us!
This memory stayed with me through my teenage years and while studying psychology in college, my friends and I discussed cases like these in our coursework. We realized that each of us – with different social circles and experiences – knew at least one person in our past who had gotten pregnant and either married off or forced to have an abortion – while a minor.
Many issues of gender-based violence are also brought on because of the lack of awareness of bodily autonomy as well as poor sexual health education
We decided to do something about the persistent lack of sexual education in our community so that youth could be better informed about their sexual and reproductive health. Fortunately, we had just seen a call by UNICEF’s Innovations Lab Kosovo and UN Women for youth to engage on the issue of gender-based violence as part of an UPSHIFT workshop.
UPSHIFT is a social innovation initiative started in Kosovo and now implemented in more than 16 countries. It supports young people to become social innovators and build solutions to challenges which they feel passionate about. We were accepted to the workshop and after a heavy three-day session of design thinking, experiential learning and human-centered design with our mentor, we came up with a solution to the problem – a mobile phone application focused on sexual education called “SHNET”.
The word “shnet” in Albanian means “Health” and is also used as an expression for “May you have health!” We thought the word hit the nail on the head. SHNET serves as “the-birds-and-the-bees” talk for our community and is the first app of its kind in the Albanian language. Since young people spend a lot of time on their phones, it was only natural that phones should be utilized for this very sensitive topic in Kosovar society.
Many issues of gender-based violence are also brought on because of the lack of awareness of bodily autonomy as well as poor sexual health education. In Kosovo, conservative attitudes towards sexual education are still dominant. However, the app is now opening doors to a different kind of discussion about our bodies. At the same time, we are also committed to helping young women not only talk about problems, but also talk about empowerment. We firmly believe that empowerment begins at the personal level – and knowing your rights while being educated about your body as well as the choices you have as a young woman contributes to this empowerment.
So far, the work that we have done in different schools in cities as well as rural areas in Kosovo demonstrates a need for a paradigm shift in sexual education in the country. Our goal is to help young people and especially young women take control of their bodies and their future. And so far, we are having an amazing time working towards that goal!
Eurisa Rukovci is an UPSHIFT beneficiary in Kosovo and is the co-creator of the first sexual health application in Kosovo called “Shnet”. She completed her studies at the University of Prishtina – Department of Psychology, and later became the Executive Director of NGO Social Lab. Eurisa, since 2015, writes as a columnist from Kosovo for regional media, while at the same time works as a book translator. Eurisa has been constantly engaged with activism, especially with regard to women’s rights, and has conducted as well as aided in a number of scientific researches in the field of social and cultural psychology. Her vocation fields are sexual health, social psychology, the history of feminist movements in the world as well as culture critique.