When it comes to sexual health, leaving youth to figure it all out on their own makes them vulnerable to risks and unwise choices.
FOXY (Fostering Open eXpression among Youth) aims to help young women in the North – including Indigenous women – learn about sexuality with factual information and through the arts.
Its parallel group SMASH (Strength Masculinities and Sexual Health) is aimed at young men.
The Yellowknife-based non-profit organization does most of its youth engagement during the school year through workshops in schools and communities in the three northern territories.
“We are addressing the need for evidence-based and trauma-informed information and workshops that include arts-based programming,” as Amanda Kanbari, education and special projects co-ordinator told Yellowknifer.
“Our workshops focus on mental health, self-empowerment and wellness.”
FOXY and SMASH hold full-day workshops in schools for youth aged 12 and up and at community organizations. They conduct between 40 and 60 workshops a year, depending on funding.
“We use the visual and performing arts to talk about sexual health, healthy relationships, and positive life choices. Participants will have the chance to act out different scenarios, and discuss the benefits of different reactions to social situations. They can ask anonymous questions in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere, and get relevant, realistic information,” Kanbari explained.
“Youth don’t just learn about sexual health – they learn about themselves, their own well-being, and gain confidence in the decisions that they make in their lives.”
In the summer, the organization holds free, nine-day retreats for FOXY peer leaders at Blachford Lake Lodge, east of Yellowknife.
Another function of FOXY is its research work, which it conducts to assess the effectiveness of its programs for educating youth on sexual health in the North.
That work also aims to fill what FOXY regards as a gap in public health information.
“When a lot of health studies come out they say they’re ‘Canada-wide’ but then there’s an asterisk that says the territories aren’t included,” Kanbari said. “We want Canadians to get a fuller picture of what kind of health outcomes we have.”
FOXY’s research has been published in academic journals including Global Public Health and Qualitative Health Research, and International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Its most recent paper, “Syndemic Factors Associated with Safer Sex Efficacy Among Northern and Indigenous Adolescents in Arctic Canada” was published in June 2019 in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Since its launch FOXY has branched out from its NWT base and worked with more than 4,500 youth in over 35 communities in the three territories and organized more than 400 workshops.
Its expansion accelerated after it won the $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize in 2014. That allowed it to form SMASH and provide more workshops for gender diverse youth.
But Kanbari said funding limitations mean they haven’t been able to reach as many communities in the vast reaches of the North as they would like.
As the eight-year anniversary of FOXY fast approaches, the organization looks forward to serving more youth in the North.
“The people who do workshops with FOXY and SMASH are more likely to go to school and stay in school and make better decisions about their own bodies,” Kanbari said. “FOXY and SMASH have had strong impacts on their self-esteem and their ability to believe in themselves.”