*Posted originally on the 24th of July 2014 by theanonymousthoughts

Risk taking behaviours education in schools

Gael Cochrane, Edinburgh Council


The third speaker at our Girl’s Education evening, Gael Cochrane, brought another perspective to the discourse, namely in that all the work she does is Edinburgh-based. In her work as a development officer for substance misuse and sexual health at Edinburgh Council, Gael mainly works in education and prevention by coordinating a team of sexual health officers to go into the majority of secondary schools in Edinburgh. As well as educating young people this team tracks changes in teenagers’ attitudes towards issues pertaining to sexual health, relationships and substance misuse. The team goes back to the same schools for half a day every year; as a result they have a good snapshot of what’s going with young people in Edinburgh at any one time, and issues which are constantly evolving.

Gael’s talk centered mainly on the sexual health side of things, since it remains the area that raises issues particular to young women. This being said, it is now recognised that substance misuse and sexual health (particularly alcohol use) are pretty much inextricably linked – it is no longer possible to look at sexual health in isolation from other risk-taking behaviours. The information sessions the team run are specifically centered on health education, but a large part of what they do is about relationships, which are absolutely key to young people’s emotional and sexual well-being.

Anyone working and/or engaging with young people, in accordance with the Risk taking Behaviours Policy, has come to recognise that young people are going to take risks. During adolescence the part of your brain which is responsible for impulses, risk-taking and its consequences is ‘on hold’, so to speak – an absolutely normal part of development. This conclusion is the product of years of research. As a result education emphasises what young people can learn from mistakes, as well as seeking to minimise harm resulting from these same lapses in judgement. The focus is always on the big picture, not on anything in isolation. The general consensus is that if young people are going to engage in risky behaviour they have to be given the tools to ensure they are as safe as they can be – this is where education comes in, which can provide them with honest and accurate information, working to ensure that they are informed enough to make decisions. This policy has come from bottom up – that is to say, it has developed because of work on the ground.

Why is this important for young women? The rates of STIs are rising, and have been rising for a number of years. One in every ten sexually active young people aged 16-25 has an STI, and in Lothian young women have higher rates of chlamydia than anywhere else in Scotland. Under 20s have the highest prevalence of STIs, and the rates of gonorrhea are the second highest in Scotland. Why is this? The answer is simple: young people aren’t using condoms anymore. This in itself marks a significant shift – since the 1990s, which saw huge amounts of education about how to protect oneself from HIV, something has changed. The rates of condom use have gone down, while the rates of alcohol use have gone up. It has further been proven that when people drink alcohol they’re far less likely to use condoms. A 2006 study of under 25s about the relationship between alcohol/condoms revealed that 87% would use one not having drunk alcohol. This dropped to 43% after having had a couple of drinks, and just 13% after more than a couple. This dramatic drop accounts for why STIs have risen in the recent future.

HIV trends have changed, too. Although one person in Scotland is still diagnosed with the disease every day, medications have improved and people are living far more normal lives with HIV. What has changed is that 37% of people who are HIV positive are heterosexual. Injecting drug users only account for 13% of HIV positive cases today – this has gone down as a result of people being fairly clued up about how to inject safely. However, rates of heterosexual young people contracting the disease have increased.

On a more positive note, this is the first year rates of teen pregnancy (which used to be high in Scotland) have dropped since 1994. While this is excellent news, it obviously remains a reality for many young women, and has a major impact on education – most teenagers who become pregnant don’t continue with education.

Gael’s team works to ensure young women are made aware that there are options available for them to do so. This 25-strong team – which has been going for 20 years – first came about as a reaction to HIV and the vital need for education in how to prevent contraction of the disease. The key message when it started out has grown and developed – now, the focus (as it has been for the past few years) is very much on sexual health and relationships, as well as substance misuse and its impact.

Here Gael talked about changes she has noticed in the last two years particularly, some of which are hugely concerning – for example, although rates of homophobic language and racism dropping, there has been a huge change in attitudes about gender. Young people are now talking about very specific gender roles, women being objectified and women’s value being in terms of how they appear. Gael mentioned a research report carried out by Zero Tolerance entitled ‘He’s the stud and she’s the slut’. One of the questions put to young people was about waxing pubic hair, the results showing that 40% of 14 year olds in Scotland have full body waxes. This is a dramatic rise from a couple of years ago – then you might get the odd person, normally admitting “my boyfriend told me to do it”, yet now it seems to be accepted as a common practice among very young women, who have a notion that women are not expected to have body hair. There has also been a rise in sexting (the sending of explicit images using smartphones), slut-shaming, and simply the use of the word ‘slut’, which is very prevalent now. In addition there has been a really concerning rise in sexual violence, with young men interviewed talking in more violent terms. A lot of young women had no notion that sex is supposed to be pleasurable, with some seeing it as something you do “to please guys”. Others felt that LGBT sex and related issues were simply not discussed. Fortunately the work Edinburgh Council does is all-inclusive, talking about all types of sexual activity. Another major issue is that of consent, and non-consensual sex; there has been a huge rise in young people talking about this, with some young men not really recognising that no means no.

While there have been some noted positive shifts in attitudes and discourse reflected by how young people are talking about these issues, it is clear that there remain long-standing problems, as well as some really worrying more recent developments affecting both genders. It’s therefore of vital importance that the type of education Gael and her team do continues to happen not just locally, but nationwide.




*Post originally published on the 16th of July 2014 by theanonimousthoughts

The Mamie Martin Fund: What we do in Malawi and why 

John Sinclair, The Mamie Martin Fund



 The second talk of the evening was delivered by John Sinclair, the great-grandson of the late Mamie Martin.  With Neil’s talk having centered on the strategic development projects of an international NGO, John’s focused on the extraordinary back story and the admirable work of a small, Scottish, family-run charity.


The Mamie Martin Fund, set up in 1993, exists to pay for girls in Malawi who couldn’t otherwise afford it to go to secondary school.  In Malawi today only 11% of primary pupils can move to secondary because of a shortage of places. Of this just 4% are girls.  As is the case in many other developing countries, and even some developed countries, in Malawi if there is a son and a daughter in a family, the son traditionally goes to school.  The Mamie Martin Fund endeavours to support the many girls who are deprived of access to education.  Funds raised go towards paying for textbooks, travel, accommodation if they have to board (in many cases the girls live considerable distance from the schools), medicine and meals.  The cost per girl per year is now approximately £300, a considerable leap from the £200, the 2013 figure.  Since 1993, 1500 girls have been supported through secondary school by the Fund, at the cost of £100,000 (raised through donors and government grants) – quite an achievement for a small Scottish charity!

Education was always very important for Mamie Martin, who graduated from Edinburgh University in 1911 (below left).  Following World War I she married Jack Martin who, after retraining as a minister, was sent on a mission to Malawi.  The couple (below right) first moved to the small, southeastern African country in the 1920s and soon settled into the community.  While Jack did his work as man of the cloth trying to set up churches there, Mamie as far as her family knew for decades stayed at home and performed the duties expected of her as a missionary’s wife.  She sadly died of black water fever during the birth of her second child, two years after Jack’s grandmother was born.  Following her death Jack returned to Scotland, deposited his family there, and returned to Malawi.  He then returned to Scotland one year later, and spoke very little about Malawi from then on.

Mamie graduatingMamie and Jack

Indeed, this potted history was the most John’s family knew about Mamie and her and Jack’s time in Malawi until 1990.  One summer’s day, John (aged 11) and his little sister (aged 9) were helping clear out their grandmother’s garage.  In amongst the garden tools and old furniture they found an old trunk full of World War I memorabilia, letters, diaries and old photographs.  It transpired that this was her father’s archive of his time in Malawi.  The lost piece of family history suddenly came to life.  John’s grandmother spent the next few months poring over the diaries, getting to know her mother for the first time.  It quickly became apparent that Mamie was far from the stay-at-home wife of a missionary – she was out there helping farmers in the fields, getting involved with local life (below) and was having an impact.   One of main things she did was set up classrooms for people in the village, as she saw the importance of teaching children to read and write.  Below on the right is the school in the 1920s; on the left is the same school today.



School 1920s



School today





John’s grandparents later made a trip to Malawi, visiting villages they’d read about in the diaries. They found Mamie and Jack’s house (which is still standing!) and the church that Jack had built after Mamie had died – and, most poignantly, the graves of Mamie and her baby.  As well as this they met lots of people, including two very elderly ladies whom Mamie had taught as young girls.  Wherever they went there were similar stories from local people of how Mamie had taught their parents/grandparents skills which had then been passed down to them – the whole unexpected ‘celebrity’ experience was quite overwhelming!  Upon their return to Scotland, John’s grandmother (below) set up the Mamie Martin fund in memory of her mother.   John's granny

The incredible story of the work of John’s great-grandmother illustrates how important one’s person’s influence can be, amplified across generations and decades.  Almost
100 years later, the work that she started still carrying on.

You can donate to the Mamie Martin Fund here.