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How do Women in Mexico Learn about Sexual and Reproductive Health?
Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America, but about 52% of the country’s total income held by the wealthiest 20% of the population, and persistent inequalities remain a major challenge to development. The fact that Mexico's population is very young—29% of Mexicans are between the ages of 10 and 24—adds strain to Mexico’s already-taxed education, health, and social welfare systems. Young people are becoming sexually active at an earlier age, but only a quarter of Mexican youth use contraception the first time they have sex.
In 2011, after Mexfam's successful advocacy efforts, the Mexican government earmarked a budget to implement adolescent sexual and reproductive health policy the first time in Mexico’s history. To illustrate the starting point to this implementation, I asked two women to tell me how their peers in Mexico learned about sexual and reproductive health and how to access services.
Claudia M. is a 44-year-old resident of Zapopan, Jalisco. She is a government employee in the health sector. Michelle Hernandez is a 22-year-old college student from Ensenada, Baja California.
Claudia: The majority of parents here do not talk about sex with their children, and the children would rather talk about sex with their friends than at home. Mexico is divided between the past and the present. Before, women used to feel alone. Health centers gave out birth control pills and information, but you had to overcome your own shame to access contraceptives. People of my generation refrained from using these things because we were ashamed of our sexual relationships. Today, young women access the world on the Internet. They use their liberties as a source of sustenance and to gain education about sex and reproduction.
Michelle: In my area, which is wealthier, we learned a little bit about reproduction and safe sex in school. In poorer areas, however, nothing was being taught in the schools on the subject. Children as young as eight were being overtly sexual, but they just thought that sex was funny or cool. They weren’t really educated on the matter. Even when you have education, there are barriers you face.
When you go to the free clinic to get contraceptives that aren’t condoms, it can take a month or more before you receive them because birth control pills require an appointment, and the delay between when you call and when your appointment is scheduled can be weeks or months. Then you have to wait on the diagnostics of your tests to come back before you are given the pill. The waiting is a major challenge because you call to make an appointment when you're ready to have sex, not several months before.
Another issue is that the private clinics and hospitals are both expensive. You need good medical insurance to get an appointment. For people who are poor and live in underdeveloped communities, there is little choice except to go to the free clinics. Even then, people have to drive or take a bus long distances just to get to these under-resourced clinics. And having to wait to receive the pill, and then go back for another appointment, makes it a big hassle, not to mention more expense. We need more information about sexual and reproductive health given to people at younger ages. We also need more public health services that are affordable and easier to access.
Tina Vasquez is a freelance writer and editor from the Los Angeles area.