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Sexual assault prevention program reduces pregnancy-related school dropouts in Kenya

Kenya-self defenseGirls and young women in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, are very vulnerable to sexual assault. Fortunately, as I've reported before, the nonprofit No Means No Worldwide is changing that. The organization, founded by San Francisco activist Lee Paiva, has developed curricula for girls and boys aimed at preventing sexual assaults. A team of Stanford researchers, who have already published several scientific papers describing how these curricula have helped reduce rape and other forms of assault, this week report a new finding: Schools where the girls' curriculum was delivered had fewer pregnancy-related drop-outs after the program began.

Both the boys' and girls' programs represent a huge departure from a culture that expects girls to react to assaults with shame and silence. The girls' curriculum teaches that it's OK to say "no" to unwanted sexual advances. It gives training in verbal and physical self-defense skills, and it's taught by young women from local communities who can act as role models for the students. The companion boys' curriculum, taught by local young men, is aimed at changing boys' attitudes toward women, teaching them what constitutes sexual consent, and giving them skills to intervene if they see other boys or men behaving violently toward women.

After the programs were implemented in some of Nairobi's high schools, school counselors began telling the No Means No Worldwide team that they thought fewer girls were dropping out of school because of pregnancy. The Stanford researchers, led by Clea Sarnquist, DrPH, decided to see if this observation was supported by data from the schools' records of dropouts. Their new report, published this week in Health Education & Behavior, shows that annual incidence of school dropout due to pregnancy fell from 3.9 percent before the girls' curriculum was put in place to 2.1 percent after, a decrease of 46 percent. (Some schools in the study, but not all, had also had the boys' curriculum implemented during the period of time included in the study.)

School dropouts due to teen pregnancy are a complicated problem that likely can't be completely addressed by a single program, the researchers write in their paper. Nevertheless, they say, "The results of the present study are promising, suggesting that these interventions, focused on empowerment, self-defense and bystander intervention to prevent sexual assault, have the secondary benefit of reducing pregnancy-related school dropout."

The nonprofit is now working to roll out its curriculum on a larger scale and to test it in a large, randomized trial. It will be exciting to see the additional ways their work helps the girls and boys who participate.

Previously: Male attitudes about sexual violence challenged by educational program in Kenya, Working to prevent sexual assaults in Kenya and Empowerment training prevents rape of Kenyan girls
Photo of No Means No Worldwide student practicing self-defense skills by Nichole Sobecki

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