The most populous country in Central America, Guatemala is half rural (50 percent live outside of large cities) and the indigenous population, which makes up 41 percent of the total population, is a mix of 12 diverse ethnic groups who speak 23 different languages. In Guatemala, 44 percent of young women give birth before age 20. This proportion is higher for lower income young women (62 percent), those not in school (58 percent), and indigenous young women (54 percent). Women in Guatemala face various barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services (SRHS), which include language, distance to service provides, and quality of care. Rural, indigenous women experience more barriers to access.
In addition to having one of the highest fertility rates in all of Latin America and low contraceptive use, Guatemala’s maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the region. Disadvantaged women turn to unsafe abortion methods and inadequately trained providers. In Guatemala, the proportion of women who go to a traditional birth attendant to obtain an abortion is three times as high among poor rural women as among better-off urban women (60 percent vs. 18 percent), and approximately 65,00 women a year — many of them young, rural, and indigenous — seek unsafe abortions.
Planned Parenthood Global in Guatemala
Planned Parenthood Global’s Guatemala program 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 teens; decrease unsafe abortion practices; and improve the social, legal, and political climate regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Planned Parenthood Global’s Guatemala program is our largest country program in Latin America. Currently, we support 17 organizations throughout the country, nine of which provide SRH services to marginalized populations in rural areas and education to teens.
Empowering the Next Generation: Youth in Guatemala
Although family planning is available without a prescription in Guatemala, there are many obstacles to access, especially for young people. Planned Parenthood Global aims to strengthen youth movements and improve young people’s access to health care by organizing and empowering them to take action to create a healthier world for themselves and their communities.
With Planned Parenthood Global’s financial and technical support, Tan Ux’il(meaning “we are growing” in the Mayan language), a community youth organization based in the Petén region, has implemented creative interventions and programs to provide sexuality education and services to 12- to 19-year-olds, a group particularly vulnerable to unintended pregnancy. Through peer-to-peer activities, and street theater performances, Tan Ux’il empowers teens by providing them with the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions. As one of the first activities of the partnership, Planned Parenthood Global worked with Tan Ux’il to design and implement a weekly radio show. Produced and run entirely by youth, the broadcast combines entertainment and popular music with sexualityeducation to attract its young listeners and ensure they have accurate information. Young people call or text questions to the youth hosts about sex, puberty, relationships, and reproductive health.
When not on the air, Tan Ux’il youth drive to high schools throughout the country, set up speakers and host sex ed fairs; they staff the youth clinic at the local public hospital, which they lobbied to have built and helped design, to ensure that young people seeking services are greeted by a young and friendly face; and they plan an annual retreat during which older members of the team train new recruits.
Protecting Reproductive Rights and the Environment
Women’s health is directly linked to the state of their environment. When rural environments become unsustainable, it is women whose lives are most disrupted. To address this issue, Planned Parenthood Global partnered with Fundaeco, one of Guatemala’s largest environmental organizations, to integrate women’s health and empowerment into the work that they do. Fundaeco believes that conservation of the environment is not possible when the majority of Guatemalan families live in extreme poverty, so they wanted to partner with Planned Parenthood Global to incorporate sexual and reproductive health into their core work.
As an initial investment, Planned Parenthood Global supported Fundaeco in the creation of three community health centers in southeast Guatemala, all built on land or with supplies donated by local villages within the protected areas. Next, because there were no doctors in the area, each community selected a traditional midwife or a local woman with some basic level of education who was willing to learn more about reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood Global funded and supported intensive training for these women in the use of contraception, the simple diagnosis and treatment of infections, cancer screening, and primary care for kids. We also trained the women in educational methods so that they could teach contraceptive methods to their peers.
After a short time, Fundaeco saw substantial results from the health centers and outreach programs. There was an increase in the number of women attending and participating in community organizing meetings and environmental activities, and the success and documentation of the project brought in more funding from other sources. Fundaeco programs now reach over 125 communities, have a series of mobile clinics, and have become a vocal advocate for sexual and reproductive health services.
By meeting Guatemalan women’s reproductive needs, and empowering women with health information, Planned Parenthood Global and Fundaeco have strengthened the local environmental rights movement, further protecting women and their families.
Advancing Reproductive Rights in Guatemala
New legislation promises new hope for Guatemalan women’s rights to health care and self-determination. In 2010, Guatemala passed the Safe Motherhood Bill, which guarantees universal access to “high-quality, culturally sensitive and free” maternal health services, and recognizes the critical role that midwives play in delivering these and other community-level health services. This bill marks a victory for our partners, La Asociación Guatemalteca de Mujeres Médicas(AGMM) and El Observatorio de Salud Reproductiva(OSAR), both of which have been at the forefront of these advocacy efforts. The Safe Motherhood Bill is a huge step forward in the Guatemalan government’s obligation to address the country’s high maternal mortality rate and extremely low rate of contraceptive use. In response to Guatemala’s high rate of pregnancy-related complications, this bill also obligates the Ministry of Health to monitor and investigate all cases of pregnancy-related death, as well as ensure access to medication and services for obstetric emergencies. For many Guatemalans, the government’s acknowledgment of the need for increased access to contraception throughout the country, with an emphasis on helping people in the poorest regions, through this bill is a testament to the importance of women’s health and access to health care.
In the News:
Dr. Linda Valencia featured in a new documentary
In this 25-minute documentary produced by Al Jazeera English, PPFA Program Officer Dr. Linda Valencia addresses the causes and consequences of unsafe abortion in Guatemala, as well as the benefits of village midwives and their role in promoting family planning in remote areas of the country.