Advancing the right to comprehensive sexuality education in Peru
Article 8 of IPPF’s Declaration of Sexual Rights, states: “All persons, without discrimination, have the right to… comprehensive sexuality education and information necessary to exercise full citizenship and equality in the private, public and political domains.”
IPPF Member Association INPPARES, Peru’s leading sexual and reproductive health NGO, strives to make this right a reality for young people. They are working with the communities that need it most, the squatter settlements, where many of the poorest and most marginalized live, including Soledad. Soledad is a rare example of someone who was denied this right and then won it back.
Soledad Solis Balboa is an energetic, creative 22-year-old from Collique-Comas, a squatter settlement just north of Lima. In her spare time she likes to draw, especially cartoons, and makes her own jewellery. She keeps a journal of her thoughts, poems and aspirations. Home
is a small, tidy single room, with two beds, one for the children, Jonathan and Maria Fernanda, the other for her and her husband. It’s modest, with dirt floors and a tin roof, but Soledad is happy here. “I have my own house and land,” she says. “My dreams are many! I want my daughter to study, to succeed. My husband and I want to give our children what we did not have. I am going to advise my daughter, and help her, make sure she knows how to protect herself. I will talk to her about contraception. And I won’t forbid her from having a boyfriend. I was young, I know what that is like.”
When Soledad was 16 years old she found out she was pregnant. She wasn’t sure how it happened. Although her school had provided sex education, it was halfhearted and inadequate. In 2005, 13 out of every 100 Peruvian adolescents were either pregnant or already a mother. “The teachers told us we should protect ourselves, but they didn’t tell us or show us how. They just said there were methods and that we shouldn’t mess up.”
“When I started having sex we didn’t protect ourselves. I didn’t understand what for.” Sometimes condoms would be handed out but “we didn’t know what to do with them so we threw them away,” says Soledad. Many of her friends in the same predicament dropped out of
General Prado High School and never went back.
Soledad wanted better for her own children, even if it meant educating them herself.
Angelica, a psychologist from INPPARES, told Soledad about its programme for adolescent mothers. The workshops gave her the sexuality education her school had failed to. “Now I feel good, I have changed my life. I know about contraception and what relationships are and how to protect myself from infections.”
The idea of INPPARITOS grew from there. “We started by giving the other girls advice on how to protect themselves, I give them condoms, we talk and I explain how to use them. Like a good friend I talk to them and little by little I bring up the subject.”
Her determination led Soledad to found her own NGO – INPPARITOS (‘little INPPARES’) – to help educate young people about reproductive health and rights. With support from the INPPARES centre in Collique-Comas, INPPARITOS has achieved legal status and is petitioning for funds from the municipality. As its president, Soledad has had to attend several municipal meetings:
“At first I was kind of afraid and embarrassed to go and ask for help and support, but the young people I was trying to help gave me strength. I do it more for them than for me. Now I feel good that I will be able to help these kids succeed.” Soledad has big ambitions for her organization. “I dream that INPPARITOS will grow, that it will be like a chain that keeps on going.”
The jovenes voluntarios (youth volunteers) are the backbone of the locally-managed community organizations and make INPPARES’ work self-sustaining. Hector Lazo, who runs the ‘Vidas para un Mundo Nuevo’ (Lives for a New World) programmes insists that this makes all the difference: “The important thing is that young people develop a sense of their own citizenship, that they are conscious that, as citizens, they can create change.”
The Peruvian Government has already promised that by 2010, 70 percent of the nation’s educational centres will have state-mandated curricula that include comprehensive sexuality education. But, while the government may have included comprehensive sexuality education in its budget lines, in practice not enough resources have been allocated to make sure that it reaches the classroom. The Alianza Si Podemos! (‘Yes We Can’ Alliance!) civil society alliance, of which INPPARES is a founding member, is trying to ensure that funding is made available and the policy implemented. More than that, it is pressing the government to fund a national programme to train teachers in elementary and high school to deliver sexuality education using rightsbased and gender-sensitive guidelines. The Ministry of Education has welcomed support from these civil society allies to help it lobby for government resources.
Information on sex and reproduction, delivered in a straightforward way, and in a language that young people understand, is a basic right. It will be an immense achievement for the Si Podemos alliance and for Soledad, enabling a new generation to make informed choices about their sexuality and their futures.
The alternative is indefensible. As Dr. Daniel Aspilcueta, Executive Director of INPPARES, makes clear:
“Those opposing comprehensive sexuality education in schools think that ignorance is the solution, but ignorance comes at a high cost, especially for the poor, with abortions, infections and adolescent pregnancies, and further marginalization.”
Read more stories of Sexual Rights in Action.