Life in Ecuador is largely characterized by instability, natural disasters, and widespread poverty, and those who live in rural areas or in indigenous communities suffer from limited access to health, education, and economic resources. Nearly half of indigenous people in Ecuador are illiterate, while those living in urban areas receive an average of nine years of schooling.
About 30 percent of the population — mostly poor, rural, and indigenous — has no access to even the most basic health care, and a lack of contraceptive use among teens contributes to approximately one in 10 teens giving birth each year. Restrictive abortion laws mean that many women are forced to obtain unsafe abortions that put them at a high risk for infections, complications, and even death. The Ecuadorian government recently launched a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education program in secondary schools, but more investment is required.
Planned Parenthood Global in Ecuador
Planned Parenthood Global is currently working with 10 different partners in Ecuador. Planned Parenthood Global has a long history in Ecuador starting with a seed grant that helped found CEMOPLAF over 35 years ago, and helped them to become the second largest provider of sexual and reproductive health services in Ecuador. Our main goals in Ecuador include building a stronger and more effective women’s movement by bringing groups together to work on joint initiatives, including human rights groups and professional associations, as well as increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services for underserved communities and populations. We achieve this by working with organizations to implement innovative service delivery models that reach underserved areas, and to work with communities that have no other alternative. Currently, Planned Parenthood Global supports the following work in Ecuador:
- Supporting key leaders in an advocacy campaign to expand legal indications for abortion, particularly strip the qualifier in cases of rape, and make it more widely available. This also involves a coalition of activists who are trying to bring international pressure on the government to address reproductive rights.
- A national level post-abortion care training program, teaching doctors, midlevel providers and counselors how to provide high-quality, nonjudgmental services for women bleeding from either a miscarriage or a botched abortion.
- An urban peer provider program, that trains a network of teens in sexual and reproductive health and rights to provide information and offer contraceptives to their peers.
- A rural peer provider program, similar to the urban program but reaching out to communities that are more rural, focuses on indigenous or out of school youth.
- A community based indigenous rights coalition that operates an adult peer provider program to train community leaders in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and will now begin offering contraceptive methods at the community level.
- Community based health promoter programs to add a sexual and reproductive health training component in a rural coastal region with Afro-Ecuadorians and other coastal populations and two urban areas on the outskirts of Quito
- Support to activists to launch local and national level media campaigns to increase awareness about the public health concerns regarding unsafe abortion and support national advocacy campaigns.
Empowering the Next Generation in Ecuador
Planned Parenthood Global supports CEMOPLAF, an organization that delivers sexual and reproductive health information, access to contraceptive methods, and communication skills to teens at 21 sites around the country. Teens learn more about sexual and reproductive health through conversations with peer educators in both formal and informal settings, distribution of contraceptive methods, and group activities.
Through workshops for parents, peer educators, and community-wide events, the teen project aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information about sexually transmitted infections, healthy sexual practices, and contraceptive methods to the greatest number of people possible: an estimated 1,000 parents and 28,000 students in total.
Planned Parenthood Global and CEMOPLAF worked together to create an innovative teen project to address the particular reproductive health needs of rural, indigenous youth in the Chimborazo province, who face an especially high risk of unwanted pregnancy at early ages, which contributes to a cycle of low educational levels and low economic resources.
This project reaches teens who have had very little previous access to sexual and reproductive health information, particularly those youth who are not attending school regularly. Providing young people with these resources has an enormous impact on community development over time as boys and girls will potentially stay in school longer, find better paying jobs, and learn skills necessary to make responsible, positive sexual and reproductive health decisions.
When he became a teenager, Nelson’s mom dropped him off at a health center run by partners of Planned Parenthood Global. “Help Nelson,” she said. “His older siblings are all married and grown. He is the youngest, help him make something of himself and help his community.” Today, after completing a rigorous training program, Nelson provides other young people in his rural community with access to contraception as part of Planned Parenthood Global’s Youth Peer Provider program.
The Ongoing Fight to Advance Reproductive Rights in Ecuador
The rates of teen pregnancy in Ecuador remain alarmingly high — 100 out of every 1,000 teens between 15 and 19 years old are already moms, many due to violence committed against minors. And Ecuador’s antiquated abortion law still restricts access to safe and legal services for women, with a disproportionately negative impact on young, indigenous, rural, economically burdened, and otherwise marginalized people. This, in a country where one in four women has been the victim of sexual violence.
Indigenous women’s groups and women’s and LGBTI rights activists, including Planned Parenthood Global, have joined forces in a coalition to call international attention to the criminal code. This coalition submitted an Alternative Report on the state of sexual and reproductive rights in Ecuador to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).
The committee held that Ecuador must amend its laws by allowing women to access an abortion when the pregnancy was a result of rape; and by introducing legislation and best practices that safeguard sexual and reproductive health and rights. The committee also recommended that Ecuador improve access to contraceptives, including emergency contraception, and a previous report authored by a special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council went a step further to establish that laws criminalizing abortion violate the right to health and should be eliminated.
Planned Parenthood Global and our partners have been working hard advocating for an abortion exception for victims of rape in this process. The UN committee recommendations to the Ecuadorian government are an important step forward for champions of women’s health and rights. Both globally and within Ecuador, we must keep up the fight and make it politically untenable for this or any government to continue to ignore the rights of women.
In the News: Abortion Rights in Ecuador
For more information, read Heather Sayette in RH Reality Check: