Facing Up to Reality

Cinthia Sagrario Interian Varguez, Guest Contributor

As a sexual human being, I feel I have the right to access contraceptive information and services even though, unfortunately, there are still harmful myths and taboos about young people’s sexual and reproductive health.  Young people in my indigenous Mayan community face particular obstacles from their culture and religion when seeking out comprehensive, unbiased information. For that reason, I founded Kananataba, which means “Take care of yourself” in the Mayan language.  This is a space where youth can go to obtain information from other youth about their sexual and reproductive health, without any judgment or discrimination.

Unfortunately, sexual and reproductive health resources for indigenous groups are few and far between. Consequently, maternal mortality rates and fertility rates are much higher among indigenous women than non-indigenous women, and contraceptive usage rates are lower. In Guatemala, for example, the maternal mortality rate for indigenous women is three times higher than that of non-indigenous groups and only 10% of women use contraceptives. In Peru, there are 489 deaths out of every 100,000 births by indigenous women due to lack of skilled care during childbirth, and 41.3% of indigenous women are not using any form of contraception.

In my country, Mexico, there were 63 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in 2005. However, situations differ across the country. The states with highest maternal mortality rates are Chiapas, Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nayarit, and Oaxaca, where there are more than 80 deaths for every 100,000 births. Many of these deaths are those of indigenous girls and women.  Their risk of maternal death is nine times higher that of non-indigenous women, mostly due to marginalization and geographic isolation.

 In Mexico, nearly 97% of youth between 15 and 19 know of at least one method of contraception, yet more than half don’t use any. Data from the Health Secretariat shows that 17.4% of women giving birth are younger than 20, and 60-80% of these births are unplanned. More than 50% of indigenous youth either don’t have access to information about contraceptives, or if they do, that information is either false or not comprehensive. Often, health center staff at universities are not trained to properly communicate with indigenous youth, due to language or cultural differences.

These are some ways I've worked to develop youth-friendly, culturally-sensitive services:

  • •Become familiar with the community to better create effective strategies to provide contraceptive information and services.
  • •If the local language is not spoken, look for translators and design materials in the native language so that correct information can be accessed easily.
  • •Start discussions in schools in the language that students use. Present information in a dynamic, innovative and interesting way.
  • •Involve parents so they know the correct way to inform and teach their children.
  • •Never deny contraception services and information to young people. Reducing maternal and infant mortality requires providing young people with the information and services they need.  

I believe it is necessary for youth to understand their rights and not let others make decisions for them.  It’s extremely important that we create safe spaces, and allow young people to overcome the stigma and judgment that so often hold them back from accessing the care they need.

Cinthia Sagrario Interian Varguez is the activity coordinator and youth counselor at Kananataba.

Originally published by Women Deliver and Impatient Optimists.

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