APROFAM Celebrates 48 Years of Making Change in Guatemala

Mia Mazer, Media and Communications Intern

A group of Guatemalan youth advocates for comprehensive sexuality education are gathered in a circle, sharing common myths about sex. If a girl has wide hips, she’s not a virgin. Boys cannot properly develop if they don’t have sex. It’s impossible to get pregnant the first time you have sex.

In a society where comprehensive sexuality education is the exception rather than the norm, myths like these spread, shaping attitudes, influencing decisions, and leaving young people unequipped and misinformed.

“A lot of times not even our parents have adequate information. The information we get is confusing and incomplete,” says one group member.

In Guatemala, sexuality education has been virtually non-existent: less than a third of Guatemalan women have received basic information on reproductive and sexual health, and only one in four have received information on contraception. The consequences of this information vacuum are severe. One out of five Guatemalan mothers is between the ages of 10 and 19, giving Guatemala the highest ratio in Latin America.

Our local partner APROFAM works to change this situation by giving young people the opportunity to learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights and advocate for themselves. Today, the organization celebrates 48 years of work in Guatemala, providing sexual health services and advocating for reproductive rights and sex education.

“I can safely say that no one who participated in this group [at APROFAM] is the same as they were at the beginning," says youth advocate Evelyn García. "We’ve all learned about sexuality, and APROFAM has given us a sense of civic obligation.”

APROFAM is part of the Mesoamerican Coalition, an alliance of organizations working to accelerate the implementation of the historic Ministerial Declaration, "Preventing through Education," which set ambitious goals to expand access to information on sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education to young people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Since the signing of the declaration in 2008, APROFAM’s efforts have resulted in an opportunity for youth advocates and members of government ministries to engage in direct dialogue, a transformative experience for both groups.

“When it comes to sexuality education, no one is better at challenging myths than young people,” explains Mirna Montenegro, an advocacy consultant at APROFAM. “When you have a [government] minister saying in public, ‘We are already teaching sexuality education,’ and an adolescent stands up and says, ‘No, my teacher still thinks that HIV is transmitted by mosquitoes,’ it leaves an impression.”

As a result of their advocacy efforts, APROFAM and its allies achieved an unprecedented victory. For the first time, the government affirmed young people’s right to comprehensive sexuality education on Guatemalan soil. As a result of continuous pressure, the government has launched a comprehensive sexuality education program in nine departments of the country and has created an agency to monitor the progress, bringing Guatemala one step closer to implementation of the Ministerial Declaration.

This work is about more than just securing legislative victories. It’s about fundamentally changing the relationship between government, civil society, and young people in Guatemala. “This is a social investment,” Mirna explains. “We’re working to change the social fabric of the country, to shift policies that have a lot to do with the country’s development.”

Although much work remains to be done, APROFAM has made significant progress in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Guatemala. After 48 years of success, APROFAM continues to have much to offer and celebrate with the people of Guatemala.


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