12th February, 2018

Northern Ireland politicians attended the launch of the annual Sexual Health Week in Stormont this morning.

The week is centred on the theme of challenging stigma and was launched by Paula Bradshaw MLA at a thought-provoking event attended by politicians, healthcare professionals, and community and voluntary sector workers.

Today’s launch took place on the same day that UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar visited the Parliament Buildings for talks aimed at restoring a power-sharing devolved government.

Mark Breslin, Director of FPA in Northern Ireland, said:

“When asked to describe words linked to stigma people often talk of fear, anxiety, hurt and anger, and list issues such as abortion, HIV, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, gender identity and sexuality.

“We’d like to thank all the MLAs who attended the launch of Sexual Health Week to help tackle this issue that affects people in so many different ways. At the launch, we gave everyone a different identity in an envelope: some were people living with HIV, or who’d had an abortion. We asked them all to think about how they might feel in different circumstances as that person, and the stigma they might face. It was an incredibly thought-provoking morning, as everyone looked at how stigma can be different – and how it can be the same.

“In order to challenge stigma, we must focus on the individual and not the label that’s been attached to them.”

Ruairi Rowan, Senior Advocacy Officer for FPA in Northern Ireland, said:

“The issue of sexual health is one that not only spans all parties but all sections of society, and it’s imperative that it’s inclusive and accessible to everyone.

“After over a year of political instability, the 2018 launch event coincided with renewed political optimism as the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, travelled to Belfast for talks with the main political parties.

“In the event of a return to devolved government in Northern Ireland, FPA intend to re-constitute an All Party Group focusing on sexual health so we can continue to highlight various issues in relation to sex, sexuality, gender identity and sexual and reproductive health and discuss the associated stigma, why it exists and how it can be challenged.”