Adolescent fertility rates in Latin America and the Caribbean surpass the world average, and more than 1 in 3 women in the region give birth before the age of 20. In rural areas, the adolescent birth rate is even higher. This is partly due to severe income disparities between the rich and the poor in the region that translate into disparities in access, sexuality education, contraception and health care.
In Latin America, a region that has one of the most unequal income distributions in the world, many adolescents are unable to access sexual and reproductive health services. Recent research shows that income inequality has become more accentuated in Latin America and the Caribbean in the last 15 years, and the impact is being unfairly absorbed by the region’s 160 million youth. With nearly half the world’s population under the age of 25, increasing young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health care is crucial.
In Guatemala, APROFAM (La Asociación Pro Bienestar de la Familia de Guatemala) has a long history of working with youth, as both clients and partners in outreach and advocacy campaigns. In addition to taking advantage of APROFAM’s youth-friendly health services, young women and men lead the organization’s Jóvenes sin Censura program as multiplicadores (peer educators) and political advocates. Their work focuses on the promotion of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in the region.
APROFAM is a member of the Mesoamerican Coalition, a region-wide alliance of IPPF/WHR partners and civil society organizations that advocate for CSE policy changes throughout Central America. APROFAM’s peer educators have been creative and outspoken in their advocacy, and as a result have been recognized by the Mesoamerican partner organizations as being a key element of the project’s success in Guatemala. Their work establishing a youth voice that is taken seriously by the media has helped achieve widespread recognition of young people’s sexual rights and the need to provide sexuality education that is comprehensive, in conjunction with youth-friendly services, so young people have the resources to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
In reaching Guatemala’s most vulnerable youth, APROFAM’s peer educators have been the strongest link. To meet the needs of the country’s young homeless population, they partnered with likeminded organizations and distributed coupons that can be exchanged for free health services at APROFAM’s clinics. The peer educators distribute these coupons while giving educational talks at health fairs and schools. As a result, the number of young people using the clinics has increased.
The activities of Jóvenes sin Censura get a lot of coverage in the local media, providing them with the unique opportunity to inject positive health messages into popular radio and TV programs. This kind of coverage also helps amplify their advocacy efforts — such as their actions in support of a new law on sex education. The dynamic and vibrant mobilization of young people in support of the bill was critical. The youth coordinated and led the advocacy campaign, developing strong links with the Ministry of Education and other key partners in progress. Ultimately, the National Congress passed the law.
In Guatemala, the Catholic and evangelical churches have considerable policy influence and have spoken out against sexuality education. The media work of APROFAM’s peer educators turned the negative publicity to their own advantage. They used the opposition’s attacks on youth sexual rights as an opportunity to publicize sexual and reproductive health services. The strong and effective partnerships built with the Ministry of Education, Doctors without Borders, and other regional partners helped establish CSE as a national priority, and they were able to achieve their goals.
APROFAM has done a tremendous job of developing and successfully implementing peer education programs and delivering high quality, youth-friendly services. Although the organization was previously well known and well regarded in Guatemala, their advocacy successes with the Mesoamerican Coalition has added to that positive image as a leader in youth rights. And the vital work of APROFAM’s multiplicadores has gained national credibility for the power of youth advocacy.