PPFA Program Officer, Dr. Linda Valencia, and our work in Guatemala are featured in a new documentary on the causes and consequences of unsafe abortion produced by Al Jazeera English.
Once the heart of Mayan civilization, Guatemala is now home to a vibrant and diverse population, and boasts the natural beauty of rugged highlands, impressive volcanoes, and Mayan ruins. It has also struggled to overcome decades of political instability and violence that led to rampant human rights abuses, particularly against poor and indigenous populations.
Although a movement toward peace and economic modernization began in 1996, progress has been slow, especially on government accountability, and discrimination against indigenous people continues. Widespread poverty, joblessness, and inadequate governance have contributed to frequent social unrest as well as international and domestic migration.
Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America and also one of the poorest, with more than half of its people living in poverty. Individuals of Mayan descent comprise approximately half of this fast-growing population, the majority of which live in the country's rural, mountainous regions. Income disparity is among the worst in the world: in 2002, the richest quintile of the population earned 59.5 percent of total income and the poorest quintile — primarily rural and indigenous earned just 2.9 percent.
As a result, vast disparities exist in education and health, with indigenous and rural populations suffering disproportionately from illiteracy and a lack of access to health services.
Health care provision is poor in Guatemala, and women and children suffer as a result. Twenty-eight percent of women want to use contraception but cannot due to limited access. As a result, the average woman in Guatemala will have more than four children in her lifetime — the highest fertility rate in Latin America.
Among Guatemala's poorest women, only five percent use modern contraceptives and the average number of children per woman jumps to nearly eight. The high incidence of unintended pregnancy results in thousands of illegal, often unsafe abortions each year, many of which lead to complications requiring medical treatment.
PPFA in Guatemala
The work of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in Guatemala focuses on preventing maternal death and disability by increasing access to contraceptives and reducing unsafe abortions. Our partner organizations provide clinic- and community-based outreach activities designed to increase the use of contraceptives and other services by adolescents; decrease unsafe abortion practices; and improve the social, legal, and political climate regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Newly passed laws, such as last year's "Universal Access to Family Planning Law," promise new hope in relation to women's rights to health care and self-determination. Good relationships with a wide variety of in-country partners and trails blazed in the public sector around post-abortion care and maternal death and disability improve the chances of creating national impact with a diversity of programs.
PPFA has enabled our partner organizations to pilot several innovative projects in Guatemala, including a mobile clinic that drives through some of the poorest and most gang-ridden areas of Guatemala City providing sexual and reproductive health services, and a youth-friendly pharmacy that provides adolescents with health advice and contraceptives in a safe, anonymous environment. In addition, adolescent peer educators provide their friends and neighbors with sexuality education and contraceptives.
PPFA also supports organizations that work with indigenous leaders and midwives to teach them about contraception and reproductive health technologies, including post-abortion care services. Information learned through these partnerships and practiced in clinical settings can be passed to the indigenous communities, increasing much-needed access to health services.
PPFA's support has enabled Tan Ux'il, a community organization based in the northern Petén region of Guatemala, to implement a program that provides sexuality education and services to 12- to 19-year-olds, a group that is vulnerable to unintended pregnancy. Through peer-to-peer activities and street theater performances, Tan Ux'il empowers adolescents by providing them with knowledge and skills to make healthy decisions. The program also runs a radio show produced and run by youth that combines entertainment with sexuality education to attract its young listeners and ensure they have accurate information.
PPFA is also supporting the pioneering feminist organization, Tierra Viva, in its Campaign to Reduce Unsafe Abortion. Currently the only feminist organization in Guatemala that is raising awareness about abortion as both a public health and women's rights issue, Tierra Viva is partnering with other feminist organizations in the country to build a network of support to reduce the death, disability, and suffering women and their families face as a result of unsafe abortion.
The campaign includes the facilitation of workshops and talks on abortion — including firsthand accounts by women — for individuals from various professions and geographic locations. By raising awareness about abortion as a pressing health and human rights issue, the project takes aim at key political and legal players, such as attorneys and judges, in the battle to gain access to safe reproductive health services.