What are the common roles peer educators fulfill?

Identified by Dr. David Dickinson, Wits Business School, University of Witwatersrand

  1. The Influencers 
  2. The Normalisers 
  3. The Advisors
  4. The Stigma Busters
  5. The Family Builders 
  6. The Sex Talkers
  7. The Condom Kings 


The Influencers

Peer educators are able to influence other’s view of the HIV & AIDS pandemic because of their position in working alongside co-workers as their friends and neighbours.  Peer educators are able to significantly engage others in conversation and through on-going dialogue are clearly able to influence others.   By “dropping in” topics related to HIV in their everyday conversations they are able to extend their influence into almost any setting, whether it be on public transport, during lunch breaks, at checkouts of supermarkets or in club changing rooms – the scope is endless.

The Advisors

Peer educators are not qualified counsellors but by the very nature of their work (and the type of person they are) they are frequently asked for advice on various subjects.  It is therefore necessary to have peer educators from various walks of life and that within the company they are representative in terms of race, gender and occupation.  A clear understanding of their role is necessary and that peer educators recognise when problems need referral to specific outside expertise.

 The Normalisers

By their attitude and dealings with co-workers peer educators are able to treat HIV & AIDS as a “normal” disease and not for what it might say about the person and not for what people may wrongly fear or assume about the disease. Peer educators have been able to take the lead in dealing with those who are HIV positive and where other staff members have been reluctant to deal with.

The Stigma Busters

This could prove a difficult role for peer educators as it could involve confrontation with co-workers who perpetuate the stigma surrounding the disease.  Addressing ‘gossip’ in the workplace has been one way that peer educators have proved to be ‘Stigma Busters’.  This has also entailed befriending those who are known to be HIV positive and to give the necessary support without fear of intimidation.  The reduction of stigma and fear is critical in any response to HIV & AIDS.

The Family Builders

The need to build strong families and strengthen relationships between men and women are also issues vital in the fight against HIV.  Being able to listen to others and perhaps identify causes of conflict and frustration in relationships, including issues such as domestic violence, child abuse.

The Sex Talkers

Openly discussing sex has often been a taboo subject, especially amongst certain cultural groups.   Dealing with HIV in the workplace has necessitated openly discussing matters of a sexual nature.  The use of the condom has to be spoken about and the correct way to use one is often demonstrated.  Anal sex, oral sex, masturbation, abstinence, faithfulness to one partner, multiple partners, visiting of shebeens etc, are all subjects that will arise at some time in the context of HIV prevention.  Peer educators have to become comfortable with the subject and clearly understand the need to address this issue in a clear but non-offending way.   Peer educators need sensitivity, patience and a willingness to face any potential unpopularity with their fellow workers

The Condom Kings

Most peer educators agree that promotion of condom use is of pragmatic benefit in that some people will have multiple partners.   Many see condom usage of benefit even in a ‘monogamous’ relationship because it can be argued that you can only fully trust yourself and a partner could stray and put one at risk of HIV infection.

Posted by Stella Heuer 4 June 2013