WE CAN Young goes Caribbean

9 juni 2015

WE CAN Young launched a project on the islands Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, the Caribbean special municipalities of the Netherlands. The aim is to use the WE CAN Young method with local partners to promote the relational and sexual resilience of young people. The project was warmly welcomed in the Caribbean. The kick-off week on Bonaire in the end of 2014 showed how important it is to be sensitive to cultural differences.

WE CAN Young (WCY) is based on the international WE CAN End all violence against women. WCY has been active in 15 Dutch municipalities since 2012. It aims at respectful behaviour amongst young people and their being conscious of limits in cases of sex and relationships. WCY pays attention to gender inequality and stereotyping. The six criteria for healthy sexual behaviour play a crucial role. Young people become change makers who design and implement their own activities. Local professionals support the young people in their endeavours, following the steps of peer education, peer activation and peer mobilisation. The coordination is in the hands of Movisie.

WCY in the Dutch Caribbean

The Dutch Ministry of Education invited Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba to join WCY. Movisie recieved funding to help the islands design a local WE CAN Young approach. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence will become applicable on the islands too. This Convention was signed by the Netherlands at the end of last year and is currently being ratified. Prevention and increased consciousness are important elements of the Convention. Working with WCY may help the island to implement the Convention.  

In order to introduce WCY, Movisie organised a kick off week on Bonaire. A delegation of three Dutch WE CAN Young project staff met with the local implementers from the three islands. During the week the methods of WE CAN Young were explained, experiences on local situations were exchanged and opportunities for linking with existing projects were explored. People were enthusiastic, although it was obvious that not all elements of WE CAN Young could be adopted straightaway. “Take for instance the materials we use”, explains Martha Talma, one of the project staff members. 'Perhaps it’s an open door, but the drawings we use for instance to explain the sex rules, do not match the Caribbean situation at all. Young people on the islands wear summer clothes and don’t meet at home but outdoors, for instance on the beach. We also found out that we apply different premises. It was a real eye opener for us. How ‘Dutch’ are we in our approach? What should be adapted to make WCY a success on the islands too?'


The discussions brought to light cultural differences that may affect the working of WCY. Talma: 'The method consists of three phases peer education, peer activation and peer mobilisation. It calls for an active role of young people: they emphasize their own opinions, decide what applies to them, design and execute actions. The educational style on the islands differs from that in the Netherlands, there is a more directive role for teachers and adults. In the concept of WCY the discussion as such is already a learning opportunity. It is not our aim to draw the conclusion.' Mimi Dongen, Head of the department of Parenting Support of Sentro Hubentut i Famia – Centre for Youth and Family – on Bonaire, and one of the participants in the kick-off week: 'Young people generally are used to operating from a position of dependency. Usually there is a leader, teacher, pastor or youth worker around. This is the person who manages and directs values and standards. If we want to adopt the WCY concept, this will be a challenge.'

In the discussion on sex rules, the rule ‘fitting the context’ also caused a debate. Dongen: 'Sometimes the religious background is important and we felt that in the Netherlands there are different views on what is tolerated and what isn’t.' Dongen also sees a more important role for parents, who need to be involved more than in the Netherlands. 'If you ask young people what they need and push them towards ‘activation’, it may cause a huge difference of opinion with parents. Because young people are not able to fend for themselves, they are dependent of their parents. So it makes sense to take parents on board in a possible innovation process.' It makes sense to Talma too: 'In the Netherlands this is not really an issue, but in the islands context it is important to take into account.'

So there is quite a number of challenges to deal with. Yet Talma and Dongen look towards the future with confidence. Dongen: 'On Bonaire for instance we might act on the feelings of embarrassment with regard to sexuality; this keeps many parents from discussing this issue with their children. We could also be more on the watch for gender stereotyping. WCY can contribute to that. There are various projects here on Bonaire that WCY could link into, such as Biba Amor (Long live love). We also have a teen mother project in which the WCY themes could be included.' Talma is also looking forward to a further deployment of WCY. 'We met with enthusiastic and involved professionals with a lot of relevant expertise. WCY and the relation with the six sex rules has become more concrete. The remarks and issues help us to prepare tailor-made materials for the islands. Plus we know that they will also be thinking about our approach. I am already looking forward to seeing how young people will take it up. I’m sure we’ll see things that we again can learn from in our part of the world.'

For more information contact Martha Talma.