Why is our Adolescent Health Program so important?

By Stephany Giron Roncal and Melany Cholotio

Guatemala has a complex socio-economic and political context, which is rooted in a traditional and patriarchal culture. A lack of investment in welfare, a high level of corruption in the government and widespread poverty make Guatemala one of the most unequal countries in the world. While women represent more than half of the world’s population, in Latin American countries they are still one of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups. In this part of the world, ‘poverty is rural, indigenous and feminine’ (Colom, 2010). Women face daily gender discrimination in every aspect of their lives: they suffer from high levels of violence and poverty, low levels of education, limited access to health care, and a lack of political representation (Country Watch, 2015).

Additionally, in 2018 according to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Observatory (Osar) Guatemala registered 2,153 pregnancies among 10 and 14 years old girls. The lack of integral sexual education and access to healthcare in Guatemala has oppressed women and hinder their access to resources and opportunities. Therefore, there is a clear need to educate young people to prevent teenage pregnancies.

It is on these grounds that our Adolescent Health program was born – an initiative that aims to educate young people from San Juan and San Pablo La Laguna about sexuality, reproductive rights, contraceptives and gender equality among other important topics. Through dynamics and creative workshops, we offer young people information and tools to understand their bodies, their behavior and their sexuality.

Why do we work with both girls and boys?

 The root cause for inequality, violence and poverty of women appears to be the oppression of women stemming from unequal power relations and persistent discrimination (UN, 2006 cited in Mapp, 2012). In order to promote gender equality and empower women, it is necessary to re-address education. Furthermore, is important to realize that if women are treated and viewed as inferior to men within society and their families, then boys and girls will reproduce the same behaviors and believes. Education programs need to be tailored according to each community’s needs and context and in order to challenge traditional and patriarchal views on women, both men and women need to be involved.

Thus, during our trainings, we empower the boys and girls to be part of and engage with their communities, to show their leadership skills and learn about their rights. One of the great things about the program is that the participants become the voices and leaders of their community and educate other young people. By creating educational and safe environments, discussions and debates about gender equality can take place. It is through sharing, unpacking and re-learning that behaviors and beliefs are modified.

 We are excited and happy to continue to work hard for gender equality, reproductive rights and access to sexual education!

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Colom Caballeros, A. (2010) La pobreza es rural, indígena y mujer. El Pais, 22 July. Available from http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2010/07/21/actualidad/1279663204_850215.html [accessed 18 June 2018]. (Spanish).

Country Watch (2015) Guatemala:Country Review. Houston: Country Watch Inc. Available from http://www.countr ywatch.com [accessed 18 June 2018].

Mapp, S. (2012) Violence against Women. In: L.M Healy and R.J Link (eds). Handbook of International Social Work: Human Rights, Development, and the Global Profession. New York: Oxford University Press, 260-263.