The World Association of Sexual Health (WAS) has awarded Doortje Braeken – IPPF’s Senior Adviser on Adolescents, Gender and Rights, Programmes & Technical - their prestigious individual Gold Medal in recognition of her lifetime’s contribution to sexual health.
She will be presented with the honour at an award ceremony at the biennial WAS Congress in Singapore this July.
Doortje tells us what this award means to her and about her career promoting the sexual rights of young people.
How significant is this award for you?
It’s very significant because WAS is serious about sexual rights and it has a wide ranging membership – including sexologists, neurologists and educators and those working in erotica, the whole spectrum of sex is represented there. They acknowledge how important it is in people’s lives.
Why have you won?
I’ve been a sex educator since 1984 when I was working for the Dutch Member Association (now known as Rutgers WPF), promoting a much more serious approach to sexology education. I worked in Romania, Eastern Europe and Central Asia promoting sexual rights for young people and fighting for youth participation in our programmes.
Why did you choose sex education?
Once I had my children I found it hard to juggle motherhood and my work at university – I saw two jobs advertised: one for traffic safety and one promoting safer sex. I applied for and then got both jobs. I worked in both for a while and found promoting safe sex more interesting so I made it my full time career. At that point the Dutch Member Association was beginning to take a more professional approach to sexuality education, since then every working year has been different. I was asked to write a sexuality education manual for IPPF and then was asked to work with the Federation promoting the sexual rights of young people.
What are you proudest of?
I’m proudest that I’ve helped change IPPF’s attitude to young people – no longer seeing them as passive recipients of services but as genuinely equal partners.
I have two dreams: Firstly, I’d like to see IPPF promote its sexuality education agenda, but to make it attractive and, yes, ‘sexy’ for young people otherwise we’re in danger of losing their interest. It shouldn’t be just about warning them of the dangers of risky sex, but about their sexual rights and how they can enjoy them.
Also, I’d like to revisit the young people I’ve worked with in the past and see where they are now. Some of our youth workers have gone on to work for the Ministry of Youth in Sri Lanka and at the Regional Council in Europe. Some of them are parents now, I’d love to know what they learned here and how have they used it in their lives. I’ve spent a lifetime investing in youth participation - it would be fantastic to see what impact it has had in individual’s lives.
It’s been an exciting journey and I have met so many amazing people on my way. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without the hundreds of young people I worked with in IPPF, from a princess in Jordan to a young herder in Mongolia, who were both struggling with the question whether it was OK to masturbate, from Lena from Lebanon who had the courage take a stand for abortion rights and was almost expelled from her country, to trafficked girls in Syria, a young volunteer in Nepal who asked us to schedule our meetings based on the constellation of the stars (if we held the meeting then, she didn’t have to get married) to young sex workers in Indonesia and Surinam, trans boys in Bangladesh, young midwives in Siberia and young parliamentarians in the UK and Finland.
And there are others who made my journey easy and so enjoyable; Esther Corona of WAS, Carmen Barosso of IPPF, Chandra Mouli of WHO and Mona Kadbey of UNFPA, who all mentored me and gave me the confidence to push the sexual rights agenda for young people forward.