JUSTA has been conducting a series of Sexual Health workshops with the secondary school of Chacaya. The idea comes from alarming facts as the rate of teenage pregnancy in rural communities, the many cases of pregnancy related deaths, the big number of children in the families and the impact of these situation on the overall health of growing children and mothers. There is an evident need of birth control in the families, however, when it comes to talk about the subject, you step into a wall of cultural and religious beliefs that determine deeply rooted attitudes. There is embarrassment, shame and even guilt, since sex has been historically condemned by religion; it is also known that religion has been recognized as a very important determinant of contraceptive use. Also, chauvinist society has based women´s self-esteem and security on filling the roles of mothers and wives.
Many rural women would like to avoid pregnancy, but they don’t do it due to lack of support from their partners and communities as lack of access to adequate information or services. Family planning is crucial to develop gender equity and a key factor in reducing poverty. If women and couples are well informed and have the resources needed to plan whether or when to have children, they are more enable to complete their studies, their autonomy within their household will increase and their earning capability is improved. This strengthens the family economic security and well-being. These benefits have the cumulative effect of reducing poverty and increasing positive development. [Family Planning, United Nation Population Fund] Knowing this, we wonder why there´s not an active plan included in the government agenda related to family planning.
In the last sessions with the Chacaya secondary school, we focused on giving information about family planning and why it is best to delay the age for becoming parents and space out pregnancies. We discussed pregnancy, health care before and during this period for both parents and how the number of children a woman has through her life, can directly affect the level of life of these children as of the whole family. For the last sessions, guys were more open and participative when it came to giving their opinion or asking questions; though the questions again evidenced very limited knowledge on basic health concepts. Of course, we stepped here into the barrier of religiosity. Supported by the open minded professor in charge of the group, we dared to point out that the decisions in our lives can be made by ourselves and not by the pressure of the community or the church. We had some reactions from students and a little respectful debate was created inside the group around this.
With girls, embarrassment and rejection to talk about sex is a big barrier. Why? Morally acceptable behavior (conditioned of course by religion and culture) play an important role. Chauvinist society has incorporated ideas of sex being dirty and immoral, especially for a woman. The workshop was intended also to be based on the questions presented by the students, so it only really got going when the girls broke through their shyness. Lack of sex education increases these girls´ probabilities to get pregnant really young, to have a non-planned number of children, to risk their health by not receiving adequate information or care and to keep the family caught up in poverty. In order to catch their interest, we argued about the importance of information, of knowing our body, how it functions, how life can be gestated; we tried to make a reflection on the importance of taking care of our bodies, deciding when and how to have an intercourse, and deciding when do we want to get pregnant and how many children we want to have.
At the end of the sessions, a couple of students came to us and said thanks for sharing all this information with them, they said no one talks to them about healthy sex or family planning. I can’t even explain how good it feels to speak so openly with the students. We know that adolescents have the right and the desire to receive clear and accurate information, and we know we’re on the right track.
Following up with the principal of the school later, he considered the whole activity as positive for the students and mentioned how parenthood and family planning were the topics of conversation for many of them during the following weeks. This is a very positive development! The fact that kids are still talking about how family planning has a place in planning their futures is incredibly encouraging. And they feel comfortable talking about this with their teachers!
JUSTA will continue working this and other important health/education topics with the students and teachers in order to increase the impact of the school. We fund these programs with the sales of our Global Just Designs products. You can support our work by shopping in Our Store!
We also collect donations to sponsor at-risk students through a scholarship program. Scholarship students attend the middle school and are invited to all JUSTA workshops. You can contribute to secure the education of one student for the next year, with only $85 you will cover one yearly tuition fee and school supplies. The entire donation is used for school fees and tuition with no overhead. You can donate on our Scholarship Page.
Thanks to Ingrid, Chacayá Program Coordinator, for this thoughtful blog post.