Mexican Government Prioritizes Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health

In 2010 Mexico began to recover from a deep recession, sparked by the global economic crisis. Although Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America, persistent inequalities are a major challenge to development, with about 52% of the country’s total income held by the wealthiest 20% of the population. Compounding these challenges is the fact that Mexico has a very young population—29% of Mexicans are between the ages of 10 and 24. This puts a strain on Mexico’s already-taxed education, health, and social welfare systems. Early and unintended pregnancy represents an additional strain: young people are becoming sexually active at an earlier age, but it is estimated that only a quarter of Mexican youth use contraception the first time they have sex.

Since 2009, IPPF/WHR’s Member Association in Mexico, Mexfam, has led advocacy efforts to direct funding and policies to sexual and reproductive rights and health, particularly for adolescents. According to Esperanza Delgado, Director of Evaluation and Development at Mexfam, Mexico’s national norms and policies on adolescent sexual and reproductive health are “state of the art.” Although these policies reaffirm the vision of United Nations agreements such as the Cairo Programme of Action, they are rarely put into practice, a process that requires planning, programming, and resource allocation.

“The federal government doesn’t keep tabs in the way that it should to guarantee that the norms are implemented at the local level,” explained Delgado. That is why Mexfam works to ensure this accountability—at both the national and the local level.

Mexfam approached local-level elected representatives and ministry members in four states, demanding implementation of the national youth policy. “In all four states, we first found unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of this specific programs for adolescents. Then, we were told there was no money to implement the policy,” explained Delgado. “So we went back to the national level, to the Ministry of Health, and after careful analysis, we realized that no specific budget had been allocated for these activities. The states were right—how were they expected to implement a policy for which no funds had been allocated?”

Mexfam had recently joined a national coalition of women’s health organizations focused on reducing maternal mortality. They soon persuaded the coalition to broaden their agenda to include sexual and reproductive health for adolescents, with a focus on accelerating implementation of the existing national policy. Working with experts in public budgeting and other coalition members, Mexfam developed a strategy aimed at persuading lawmakers to allocate funding for the adolescent health policy.

After months of diligent work, Mexfam and their allies in the coalition secured a monumental victory: the Mexican congress earmarked 100 million pesos (USD $7.8 million) for state-level implementation of the adolescent sexual and reproductive health policy for 2011, then increased the budget line to 200 million pesos (USD $15.6 million) for 2012—at a time when health and education budgets were being cut across the board. This was the first time in Mexico’s history that the government had earmarked a specific budget line for adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and according to Delgado, the political implications of this victory cannot be overstated.

“It means the work positioning the issue of adolescents sexual and reproductive health and providing evidence for funding was convincing,” she explained. “It also means that this change stands a better chance of prevailing when the new President and Congress are elected [in 2012].”

After this success, Mexfam began working in four states sensitizing policy makers to ensure the implementation of this youth policy. As a result, Delgado said, “today, we can say that in the four focus states [where Mexfam has worked], sexual and reproductive health is definitely a priority. It’s on the political agenda. Things are moving. The money has arrived, and it’s being spent. The agenda is changing.”

Delgado stated that the Voices project helped establish advocacy as an integral part of Mexfam’s overall institutional strategy, and that the organization is now in a position to build strong advocacy networks with other civil society organizations.

“Mexico, as with many of the countries in this region of the world, is still learning how to be a democracy,” said Delgado. “At the same time, we are still learning how to demand accountability from our government. This is a relatively new process, and it’s not yet established as a day-to-day practice. I feel very proud that Mexfam is opening these spaces and strengthening these democratic processes in Mexico, because it has significant implications for our democracy.”

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