If Georgina Dukes were to have a biography written specifically about her involvement with women’s health advocacy, it would be titled “I Am an Advocate: When I See Something that Needs Improving, I Do Something About It.” This future book title and kernel of truth for advocates is wise yet simplistic enough that any aspiring advocate can take it to heart and apply it to their own work and life.
Dukes, a graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina, health educator for at-risk youth, and mother herself, has made it her mission to bestow on others one of the most valuable gifts one can give – knowledge. As a teacher in a low-income area down in rural Charleston, Dukes found that the strangest misconceptions would indeed come from the mouths of babes.
The twelve and thirteen-year-old students she taught would spout out things like “you can’t get pregnant if you’re on top because the sperm goes down because of gravity;” while a statement like this is seemingly ridiculous to those of us who have have been fortunate enough to have access to medically accurate sexual health education, for young, pre-teenage kids lacking support systems willing to educate them about the truth about the birds and the bees, statements like this are commonplace and widely accepted.
Georgina Dukes knows what it’s like to be in the shoes of the young students she works with: “I was in fifth grade and one of our classmates was pregnant. I remember being shocked - it was such a confusing process. [By high school,] there were so many people getting pregnant and dropping out.” She got involved in on-campus organizations during her college years and began to try to educate those around her. While in school she became pregnant, and what for many would be considered a setback, only motivated her further to eradicate the misguided education coming from all directions – churches, schools, and parents – that continuously did not match up.
Acting as a witness to the lack of knowledge about their own bodies and reproductive health, Dukes continues to work to dispel middle school myths about sex and health at the ground while also advocating for the implementation of comprehensive sexual health education statewide. She, like many others, finds that the action that our state legislature has taken on this issue, while somewhat disappointing, is still better than nothing. Dukes recalls, “the first time I went [to the subcommittee meeting] … they didn’t even want to discuss it … [so] any step in the right direction is a good step”; however, there is much work left to be done before this piece of legislation is where most comprehensive sex education advocates want it to be. “They gotta step it up … is it going to take one of their [legislators’] daughters getting pregnant?”
Now a mother herself, Dukes has a personal stake hold in working to improve South Carolina’s education system: “we’ve got to stop acting like it’s taboo to talk about comprehensive sexual health education … my son’s going to need that medically accurate education to make decisions.”
Echoing the sentiment of many mothers, Dukes keeps working to educate the youth about sexual and reproductive health in areas of South Carolina where education overall is neglected by our legislators and infrastructure left to crumble. South Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate overall has dropped quite considerably, but in areas like the “corridor of shame” where all types of funding are limited and education is overlooked, the rates either haven’t changed or have increased.
It’s these regions of our state that are so often left to find funding for themselves where children sit in desks in shambles of buildings that we need to work to educate and empower, and that’s how Dukes finds her place in the line of advocacy - “there’s always a way to reach out and educate someone younger.” In linoleum-tiled school halls trampled by children’s sneakers and squeals of excitement, Georgina Dukes is an inspiration to remind us of the future generations that as advocates we are working for - a goal much larger than ourselves.