Stepping Stones is a workshop series designed as a tool to help promote sexual health, improve psychological well-being and prevent HIV. The workshops address questions of gender, sexuality, HIV/AIDS, gender violence, communication and relationship skills. In doing so they recognise that our sexual lives are embedded in a broader context of our relationships with our partners, families and the community or society in which we live. These strongly influence how we act, the possibilities open to us and our ability to make safe and healthy choices. Knowledge is important, but to make changes in our lives we need more than knowledge, for example if we do not communicate well with our partner, or we fear being beaten or abandoned, or feel constrained by our culture or religion, we may not be able to use condoms. Sometimes we try to say what we want but are not listened to.

Stepping Stones workshops provide opportunities for participants to examine their values and attitudes towards gender and relationships, to build on their knowledge on aspects of sexuality and HIV/AIDS and to develop skills to help them communicate with others and ensure that other people know exactly what they want. The workshops are based on participatory learning approaches as we all know that we learn better when we have our knowledge affirmed and are able to discuss and decide things for ourselves, rather than just receiving lectures. They are designed for use with men and women.

Each session described here represents a stepping stone on the path across the difficult river of life. Each has been designed to build on previous sessions and so the manual is intended to be used in its entirety with a group of participants who work through all the sessions. It was originally developed for use in small communities in Uganda, but has been adapted for use in South Africa. In making the adaptation we recognise that most South Africans live in cities. The communities referred to in this manual may refer e.g. to people from a neighbourhood, from a school, a women’s group, a football club or a church group. The manual may be used with any group of people, of any age and both genders so long as they are prepared to meet together for the workshops and share aspects of their lives.

Stepping Stones has been rigorously evaluated in research conducted by the Medical Research Council in the rural Eastern Cape and shown to enable young men and women to change their behaviour and reduce their acquisition of sexually transmitted infections.

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