Live from Iowa: Latina Empowerment

A radio
written and directed by an MFA student at the University of Iowa aims
to empower Latina women about sexual health. The program, called “La Noche Te
De Sorpresas,” or “The Night Gives You Surprises,” is broadcast in Spanish and
is one of two culturally-specific radio shows being launched by the University
of Iowa College of Public Health and the Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended

The program is broadcast by four stations throughout Iowa on
Saturdays, and a 15-minute drama, directed by Tony Meneses, is followed by a
45-minute question and answer session that refers listeners to health care
providers and community organizations.

Meneses, who is Mexican-American, says that “unintended
pregnancy often isn’t a topic of conversation” in Hispanic communities. That
silence perpetuates not only the burden of unplanned pregnancy among Latina
women, but also the transmission of HIV and other STIs. A 2006 study found that, in
California, the rate of HIV among Latina women was twice as high as the rate
among white, non-Latina women, and that almost a third of all HIV-positive
women in the country are Latina.

But while stigma within the community may make it more
difficult to address sexual health, a more significant obstacle is economic
inequality, as a September
from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health points
out. The report cites research that finds that a young woman’s neighborhood
matters: in an area with higher median household income and better access to
family planning services, more adolescent women use contraception.
Unfortunately, Latinas are disproportionately likely to live in areas with few
family planning clinics.

Latinas are also less likely to delay pregnancy because they
don’t see college a realistic option for them:

Many women and men delay childbirth to finish their
education, but a disproportionate number of Latino youth leave high school, and
many others simply cannot afford the cost of university tuition. For low income
adolescents with fewer opportunities, early childbirth is “less costly in terms
of opportunities lost.” Indeed, research indicates that being
in school, doing well in school while one is there, and believing that one will
be able to continue on to college are all protective against early

there’s a simpler reason why young Latinas are less likely to use
contraception: one in five has no health insurance. (And the health care
obstructionists on Capitol Hill would like to keep it that way.)

It’s clear that it’s not only Latina women who need
attention, but also the systems around them, most notably public education and health
care. According to another study, the rate of unintended pregnancy among
Latinas is more
than twice that of white, non-Hispanic teens
. And, as the article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen points out,
teenagers aren’t the only ones affected by unplanned pregnancy: women whose
families are complete are often surprised by a pregnancy:

Unintended pregnancy includes
mistimed conceptions, a pregnancy that is sooner than planned, and unwanted
conceptions, including after a woman has decided to not have any more children.

Iowa’s radio program is valuable in that it helps women make
the most of resources in their communities—whether they’re the urban
communities of Des Moines or Waterloo or the rural communities that make up
much of the state.

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