August 1st, 2010
The e-journal Contestations is a cross cultural and cross disciplinary publication which tackles diverse issues around women’s health internationally. It seeks to create a platform to explore and discuss core issues around development, politics and health.
The current issue debates the statement ‘Sexual pleasure empowers women!’ and opens with an outline of core issues relating to women, development, health and empowerment in relation to sexual pleasure, written by the awesome Susie Jolly. Jolly provides a very helpful overview of sexual and reproductive health and human rights, highlighting how often well intentioned programmes to tackle women’s problems and gender inequality have either ignored the idea of pleasure, or only focused on sex negative or victim/pity models.
This opening essay is expanded upon with an interview with Hania Sholkamay who talks about her views on the concepts of sexual empowerment within a development context.
The remaining part of the issue includes short responses from key practitioners working within International Health and/or Sexual/Reproductive/Rights based programmes. Drawing on work, experience and practice from different cultural settings (and subject positions) these essays discuss and expand upon the ideas set out in Jolly’s original piece. These include essays from
Sylvia Tamale from Makerere University in Uganda
Li Yinhe from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Sonia Correa from ABIA AIDS and Sexuality Policy Watch in Brazil
Pinar llkkacaran from Women for Women’s Rights, Turkey
Shivananda Khan director of the Naz Foundation in India
Each contributor has a different interpretation on what pleasure means and how important the concept of sexual pleasure is within the wider arena of women’s health, human rights and international development.
I was proud to be asked to join the discussion, my contribution can be found here. It hinges around my acceptance of the importance of pleasure but my anxiety over how concepts like sexual pleasure and sex positivity may be understood and applied within an international health context, given my awareness of how critical and evidence based practices within this area are often absent or overlooked. I drew upon my experience as a Social Psychologist working within International Sex and Relationships health – both as an academic teaching and supervising healthcare professionals in their postgraduate studies, and as a practitioner educating healthcare and journalism colleagues worldwide to appraise and deliver sexual health programmes. I also wrote the piece during the Clitoraid debacle that took place earlier this year – which was divisive and unpleasant but served as a chilling reminder of how good intentions around sex positivity can often fail if introduced in a top down fashion in developing country settings.
Hopefully you’ll find all the essays provocative, interesting and useful. They will be particularly helpful to you if you work within sex research, education, development and health. While they take a global view the messages within this special issue are relevant to women in many country settings – not just in the Global South.
I’d particularly encourage the sharing of this open access resource to those working internationally within sexual and reproductive health where critical thinking and considering concepts like pleasure often doesn’t get talked about – not least because people aren’t sure where to begin. These essays give a great opportunity to begin dialogue about the importance and meaning of pleasure, as well as encouraging us to review existing research to inform better practice, and to evaluate activities we’re currently involved in.