Advocacy in the region: Young people’s sexual rights in Peru

I just came from Peru, where I received fabulous news! The government’s Head of Sex Education told me that the IPPF/WHR Member Association, INPPARES, together with other civil society organizations, played a key role in implementing comprehensive sexuality education in more than 900 primary and secondary public schools throughout the country.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, sexuality education in schools is crucial for two reasons.  First, the need is huge: Latin America has the lamentable distinction of being the only region in the world where the proportion of adolescents who become mothers is not decreasing. In many countries it is increasing! Second, there is momentum for change as new opportunities emerge in a landscape where conservative Catholic and evangelical churches still have a huge influence.

In 2006, the IPPF Western Hemisphere Regional Office – with the support of several donors – began building the capacity of Member Associations to do advocacy, particularly for comprehensive sexuality education. We trained staff to be advocates, we developed partnerships with like-minded movements and civil society organizations, and we offered financial support for advocacy campaigns.

We focused on a small number of countries: initially two, now nine. Peru was one of the first. Together with dozens of other organizations and groups, INPPARES created the campaign Si Podemos! or “Yes We Can!". (Little did they know that they would later inspire Obama’s presidential campaign!) They started by documenting the need for sexuality education with solid research, and then proceeded to use every opportunity they could to declare young people’s rights.  They cultivated allies among congressmen and especially congresswomen, and among officials of the Ministry of Education, with whom they held numerous public discussions and events in different parts of the country.  Using creative methods, they attracted the attention of the media and became a constant presence on the daily press, radio, TV and the blogosphere. One example was their day of "One Hundred Roses".   Young people offered roses to each of the one hundred members of Congress, asking them to approve the Sexuality Education Law. Thankfully, the law was approved after this charm blitz.

The achievements are impressive. More than 900 schools have implemented comprehensive sexuality education, more than 10,000 school officials and teachers have been trained, regional teams of supervisors are in place, almost 300,000 thousand students have been reached, resources have been allocated in the national budget, and 12 high quality manuals have been published and distributed. However, in a country the size of Peru, this is just the beginning. The program has not been implemented in the Amazonian and Andean regions, where cultural diversity will present special challenges.  There is still need for expansion, and the conservative opposition has not declared defeat.

The Ministry of Education believes the sex education program is helping to shape citizens with a new awareness of their rights and they will not let others decide for them. There is gratitude to INPPARES and IPPF/WHR for helping to make this possible. IPPF has a responsibility to continue building the capacity of MAs to play a role in the transformation of their societies to create a better world for all of us.



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