World Population Day: The Importance of Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

This post was originally published on July 11th, 2011, on the White Ribbon Alliance blog.

With a population of nearly 200 million people, Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, covering nearly half of South America.  It is one of the rising global economic giants—otherwise known as BRIC nations—together with Russia, India and China, and widely considered to be one of the world’s biggest democracies. Over the past few years, Brazil has made major efforts to close the gap between the rich and poor.  Brazil’s HIV/AIDS prevention program is often lauded as a model for other developing countries, and the World Bank recently announced an expansion of its partnership with Brazil to eliminate poverty. 

Yet, like many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is difficult to draw generalities when it comes to Brazil.  This holds true, whether discussing Brazil’s incredible biodiversity, climate, economy or demographics.   This diversity can also be seen in access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly for young people. 

For young people in Brazil (and most parts of the world), adolescence can often seem like a Catch-22: while this period is marked by rapid physical and emotional development, young people are often denied the tools, services and information they need to make informed and safe decisions about their well-being.  This contradiction is often most pronounced when it comes to sex. 

In Brazil, our Member Association Sociedad Civil Bem-Estar Familiar no Brasil (BEMFAM) has worked for more than 45 years to increase the access of all people to sexual and reproductive health services and assist them in exercising these rights.  Last year alone, BEMFAM provided over seven million health services, with youth under age 25 comprising nearly forty percent of new users. Youth also comprised two-thirds of BEMFAM’s contraceptive services, an impressive statistic for a region that has one of the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world.

One reason for BEMFAM’s impressive reach is their national youth program, BEMJOVEM—or “good youth”—which bases its activities both on the unique needs of youth and programs to encourage youth leadership.  BEMFAM operates youth centers in the capital cities of seven diverse provinces, reaching both urban and rural youth alike, as well as sexuality education programs in local schools. 

However, these educational programs go far beyond the biology of sex.  According to Dr. Monica Almedia of BEMFAM, adolescent girls often “find it difficult to dream and to think of a better and different future.  Pregnancy is a way to get away from the young girls’ own lives… to have their own home and transfer their affection to someone else.”

BEMJOVEM’s youth programs help young people like Lucine da Silva Nascimento develop self-esteem and life skills not taught at home or in schools.  At the youth center in Rio de Janiero, Lucine not only learned how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections; she also developed her communications skills and confidence which empowered her to make her own life choices.   

"When we grow up in a poor and needy community where there [are many] problems, we start to have different interests,” said Lucine, who is now a 22 year-old peer counselor with BEMFAM and on the verge of entering college.  “My own family has helped me develop my concept of family, but my experiences have made me want to think first about my financial stability. My family will come after."

The International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Regionhas long been a champion of quality health services for all and a staunch defendant of sexual and reproductive rights. We know, based on decades of experience and through the stories of individuals like Lucine, that in order for all people to attain the highest standard of health, they must first be empowered to exercise choice in their sexual and reproductive lives and feel safe and informed in expressing their sexual identity.  

On this World Population Day, only months before the world anticipates the birth of the earth’s seventh billionth person, these are the investments we should prioritize. 


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