This profile was prepared when Catherine Watson was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
In the early 1990s when the Ugandan HIV and Aids pandemic reached its peak, there was very little public knowledge about youth sexuality and HIV/Aids. In 1993 Cathy pioneered the idea of talking openly about sensitive topics regarding adolescence and HIV and Aids. Her new idea is based on the notion that silence on sensitive topics only frustrates interventions against HIV and Aids. Cathy believes that only when the public openly talks about adolescence, sexuality and STDs meaningful interventions will achieve lasting results. Cathy started the Straight Talk newspaper to provide adolescents in Uganda with frank information about sexuality and HIV/Aids. A typical Ugandan newspaper—usually communicating in favor of or against the interests of a specific group—will give citizens a biased view of an issue. Ugandan society has often been split along partisan lines, and newspapers have often not acted as a tool to unite an ethnically diverse population. In many ways Straight Talk is a model for public communication. Cathy designed the newspaper to encourage open dialogue among adolescents and young adults. The content is largely based on the opinions of the readers and is communicated in a non-judgmental and non-argumentative manner. To capture the interest of the young readers, the newspaper is highly illustrated, simple, and enjoyable. To encourage further dialogue and to cater for young people who may not easily access the newspaper, she started radio programs, now in 12 languages, that reach a much wider audience. With its participatory methods and dedication to open dialogue, Straight Talk has become the national reference for how to educate young people by eliciting their own ideas and experiences.