Imagine a 14-year old teenager with a great future before her; she notices her physical changes and begins to ask herself questions. How can this adolescent inform herself about her sexuality? Where can she go to get the information she needs? You might say “She should go home and talk to her parents.” or “Let her parents deal with that.” But let’s add some other characteristics of this girl: “She lives in a rural area, her parents speak Mayan, they live in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, where people are predominately of the ethnic groups Q'eqchi 'and Poqomchí. Furthermore, her parents never had access to formal education, they work the land and have a conservative view on sexuality issues.” What can we do to address this issue?
About a year ago an idea was hatched, perhaps the most difficult one in this conservative society: To talk with young people about responsible sexuality. At the time, talking about this issue was still forbidden or wasn’t well received in that society. Despite that, the risk was taken, and the issue was broached because there was a real need to inform adolescents about the high number of teenage pregnancies.
People here would look thunderstruck just at the mention of the word “sex”, in some cases it could lead to aggression and in other cases it was considered an adult issue. If this happens in the streets, what might happen when this is discussed at home? One could say that the responsibility should be shouldered by public institutions (health, education, local government, etc.) but experts say that the root of this problem lies in the family nucleus, in the level of education and the way the information is transmitted from parents to the children at home. However, this is not the space where the message is being conveyed.
One might ask why – in these times when there is so much access to technology – isn’t the message being received? How is that possible? Sadly, however, that is what is happening, and it is a reality. Very little information is getting to adolescents from their families, communities or even from their region. To talk about sexuality is a taboo and, therefore, what they get is misinformation on this subject and little access to different contraceptive methods. Furthermore, there are also religious biases that prevent addressing these issues.
Young people today can find a lot of information on the web, on social media and probably also in their educational centres. What we don’t know is how this information is being processed or if it is reaching the receptors the way it was intended. Of course, technology facilitates the transmission of many sorts of messages, but is this the adequate vehicle?
The Empodera project in coordination with the Ministry of Health are working to reinforce and promote the National Plan for the Prevention of Pregnancies in Adolescents (PLANEA) in the Department of Alta Verapaz. The plan is executed and coordinated by the government and a multisectoral committee comprised of public institutions as well as national and international organisations.
The campaign “Wank Sa'Tuqtuukilal” (which means Let's Live in Harmony) was designed by the multisectoral table and the messages as well as the calls for action are aimed at several groups: women, (mothers, teachers, academics, sexual abuse survivors, school children and children in general); adolescents and young people as well as male parents, religious leaders, academics, etc. The messages include the highest priority issues, such as the emergency provoked by the coronavirus pandemic, and is aimed at reducing the levels of violence and the prevention of teenage pregnancies during periods of confinement. It also endeavors to reach underprivileged groups and transmit positive attitudes towards gender equality which will allow people to live in harmony in the different walks of life.
“The institutions and organisations that make up PLANEA, are committed to the initiative of using the media to educate the population, so that together we can live in harmony.” says Rocío Renata Meza Duering, Coordinator of Social Communication of the Departmental Directorate of Education.
“We thank Swisscontact and the Empodera project for their support as well as their technical, administrative and financial involvement from the very start of the campaign in 2019, and how it adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it possible for the project to position itself in the department,” states Eugenia Chacón, a psychologist of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance in the department of Alta Verapaz.
It is indispensable to prevent teenage and young pregnancies. In our community the highest rate of pregnancies occurs between the ages of 11 to 19 years of age and those who suffer most are the most vulnerable and excluded populations. Bear in mind that early pregnancies limits the development and opportunities for girls, adolescents and women in particular. Also be aware that this social scourge follows the path of power relations, machismo and, therefore, promotes violence against women. Dilia Có Coy, Empowerment of Women, Empodera project.
The contribution of the Empodera project, implemented by Swisscontact Guatemala under the auspices of the Swedish Embassy in the department of Alta Verapaz, is founded on the belief that in order to achieve the full empowerment of women the inequalities between genders must be reduced by diminishing violence as well as teenage pregnancies. As of May of this year, there were 3,962 cases of pregnancies in girls between the ages of 11 and 19, the highest indices in Guatemala. Therefore, the campaign promotes the free and informed decision-making process, which will result in harmonious family life, harmony in communities and society, and a better future for young people, women, indigenous people as well as the more vulnerable population. We firmly hope that “Living in Harmony” will not just be a message of awareness, it will become a reality!
The Empodera project is financed by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and implemented by Swisscontact.