After attending UNICEF Innovations Lab’s UPSHIFT: Social Impact Workshop, four students in psychology studies from the University of Pristina decided to launch a mobile app to promote sexual education of adolescents and youth in Kosovo. This youth-led Programme initiative is designed to address misconceptions, incorrect information, stigma, and other issues related to sexual literacy of adolescents in Kosovo’s cultural context.

During UPSHIFT, adolescents and youth seemed to agree that the absence of sexual education can be the source of social hazards including unintended pregnancies.   With sexual literacy still being largely considered a taboo topic in Kosovo, the young people also suggested that sexual education in schools is rarely taught as teachers tend to skip entire chapters of the curriculum to avoid this subject.

“A lot of our female friends were forcibly married off as a result of unwanted pregnancies which came from a lack of knowledge on contraception,” says Eurisa Rukovci, one of the founding members of “Shnet”—which translates to ‘Health’ in the vernacular. “This is a problem here in Kosovo. People don’t talk about sex. It’s taboo in families.”

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(The audience as it witnesses the launch of the application) © Lisar Morina.

Dea Rexhepi, another founding member of ‘Shnet’ says that the idea for the app arose at UPSHIFT, due to the pressing need to reach out to more adolescents and youth. She revealed that the mobile app represents an opportunity for young people to have access to information on sex education in their mother tongue.

“Using the methods and practices we learned at UPSHIFT, we wanted to develop an app so that even if adolescents are hesitant to speak about sex education, they would still have access to basic facts and relevant information they need from their phones,” Dea says.

With UNICEF support and guidance, Shnet finally organized a Kosovo-wide event on February 22nd, 2017 to disseminate a well-conceived and well-functioning app that is available in the Google Play Store. The app itself is divided into five sections: Let’s Talk Sex, Sex Anatomy, Sex Facts, Safe is Sexy and Know Yourself.  Each section is carefully tailored to include basic facts and relevant information that students have identified as the most critical issues affecting physical and mental health of adolescents.

One of the unique features of the application is that it is the first one that is made entirely available in Albanian and Serbian—the two official languages in Kosovo—making relevant information available to the most marginalized groups of adolescents and youth.
UNICEF support is based on the premise that sexual education and socialization can contribute to both physical and mental health of adolescents. Sexual literacy is essential to promote psychosocial well-being throughout adolescence and adulthood.3

(Members of Shnet and UNICEF Staff after the launching event of the app) © Lisar Morina.

It is essential to help adolescents and youth reach their full potential in life and to influence their individual developmental course positively.  While congratulating young people for initiating the mobile app to promote sexual education, UNICEF Kosovo has used the metaphor of a GPS to encourage adolescents and youth to embrace a purpose-driven life.  With a GPS, nothing happens until you decide where you want to go. The same is true with social change projects. In life, “nothing will happen until you have a purpose that gives clarity about where you are now—and a pathway to where you want to go”.

As of today, Shnet has already reached more than 300 adolescents in 10 schools, the group has plans to expand their outreach campaign in the coming months, promoting their initiative and their app to reach more vulnerable young people, so they are able to make informed decisions about their sexual health and literacy. In addition, ‘Shnet’ is already in the process of expanding the application to other mobile platforms.

*All references to Kosovo are made in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)