There is a saying ‘same same, but different’.  Peers:

  • share identity (‘Same same’)
  • but are not identical (‘but different’)



Same same,.....

‘Peer’ refers to  ‘equal’ “a person who belongs to the same social group as another person or group. The social group may be based on age, sex, sexual orientation, occupation, socio-economic and/or health status, etc.” (Peer Education Training of Trainers Manual, UN 2003).

A peer is one that is of equal standing, based on age, grade, gender, interests, background, habits or status. This basic ‘likeness of’ is an  essential characteristic of peer work.

“The prohibition of drugs inevitably leads to the development of a community. Drug use is illegal ipso facto drug users are criminals.  Forced to develop economic and social networks to keep one’s individual supply of drugs achievable and I must confess, to keep those not involved in as much ignorance of our activities as possible.  Outside our individual countries we are bonded by a common experience.  That goes beyond language, cultural or regional diversity.  Our common experience of discrimination, our lack of human rights speaks to every illicit drug user.

Jude Byrne, drug user activist, chair person of INPUD, Australia





.....but different

Starting peer works sounds easy (‘just talk with friends and colleagues’), but it is complex.  Peer work is based on mutual recognition of shared identity, or parts of identity, but even when people share the background they are not identical.   Recognition that a peer has been ‘living the life’, ‘having been on the same side of the fence’ is an important notion in the start of peer work.  However, just as one can be part of several communities, one can be a peer within different groups.

Recognition of the same interests or values does not automatically mean that others see you as a peer.  Being peer is more than being equal or the same, it is about mutual acceptance that you have an important issue in common. And it works both ways.

For further reading, the publication from the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League on peer work has a excellent part on the ‘acceptance’ of peers.