Pandemic or not, the fight for girls’ rights perseveres in Guatemala

By Global Fund for Children | October 6, 2020 | The Americas | Gender Equity

Editor’s note: This blog was written by Global Fund for Children’s Daniela Martinez and Vanessa Stevens. It is also available in Spanish

Without the advocacy of grassroots organization Asociación AMA, thousands of young people in Guatemala would lack access to comprehensive sex education. Today, in the face of COVID-19, AMA remains resolute in ensuring girls have information vital to protecting their health, rights, and future.

April 2019: Girls participate in an activity led by AMA’s young women facilitators to strengthen life skills and learn about comprehensive sex education. © AMA

Developed to promote girls’ leadership and civic participation, AMA was founded as a women’s collective in 2013 in Guatemala’s northernmost region of Petén. AMA became a GFC partner in 2018 and is one of 17 grassroots organizations that are part of the Empowering Adolescent Girls in Central America initiative.

When Leslie Mejía, Executive Director, and Francisco Valle, Administrative Director, began developing strategies to strengthen girls’ social development, they soon realized that not a single school in their department had a comprehensive sex education program. They also recognized that girls were not getting this education at home and that it was essential for students to receive age-appropriate, scientific information for both their health and their agency as young people.

AMA saw that the district government was not working toward comprehensive sex education in the schools, although Guatemala’s Ministry of Education (MINEDUC, for its name in Spanish) and Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance had signed an agreement in 2010 urging the country’s departments to move in this direction. Called Prevenir con Educación (Prevent with Education), the mandate called for the nationwide inclusion of comprehensive sex education in schools by 2020 to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, adolescent pregnancy, and violence against girls. It was the first time the two ministries recognized the need to work together and within the school system. This mandate became a powerful tool for AMA’s programmatic and advocacy strategies.

February 2018: Schoolteachers participate in AMA’s certification course on comprehensive sex education. © AMA

AMA identified that a crucial step toward realizing the objectives of the mandate was the creation of a comprehensive sex education curriculum. In 2015, with support from CAMY Fund, AMA designed lesson plans in consultation with schoolteachers, social workers, and public health officials and developed a certification course for teachers working with students aged 10 to 13. AMA worked with MINEDUC’s Departmental Directorate for Education in southeastern Petén to begin training teachers to integrate comprehensive sex education into the local school system. That year, AMA trained 113 teachers in 48 schools across Petén.

AMA’s efforts continued to build credibility at the departmental level, and the organization was recognized as a true partner. In 2017, MINEDUC developed a comprehensive sex education and violence prevention curriculum, with support from UNFPA and UNESCO, and requested AMA’s collaboration in implementing the training curriculum with teachers. AMA carried out a second round of training that involved 108 teachers from 41 schools across Petén.

That same year, AMA recognized the importance of creating a local working group to bring together representatives from the public health system and the education system to strengthen the coordination between the two ministries and enable a multi-sectoral response to the high rates of pregnancy and violence facing girls and adolescents. However, government officials said that AMA could not create a local working group until one existed for the entire Petén department. So AMA got to work, taking its advocacy to the departmental level.

“We faced some challenges at first,” reflected Leslie. “There was a lot of friction between the two ministries about whose responsibility it was to create this working group. We expressed how it is their duty to fulfill this national mandate and that we wanted to support them in this endeavor. So we started to organize the working group to bring together the key actors.”

February 2018: AMA meets with the departmental-level working group. © AMA

The formation of the departmental-level working group led to the creation of a strategic plan and the establishment of three district-level working groups in the northern, southwestern, and southeastern regions of Petén.

AMA’s influence led the department to develop a strategy for implementing comprehensive sex education for the entire region at the end of 2019.

Entering 2020, AMA expected comprehensive sex education to reach even more schools and students in all 14 of Petén’s municipalities. But in mid-March, COVID-19 struck, forcing school closures and postponing teacher training. As the lockdown went on, AMA and its allies in the working group began to observe an increase in adolescent pregnancy and domestic violence – a devastating impact of the pandemic, as Petén had started to witness a decline in pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 14.

AMA persevered with its advocacy. After taking part in GFC-funded Training for Change modules about how to facilitate dynamic online workshops, AMA proposed to train MINEDUC’s departmental curriculum advisors in how to design and facilitate online learning. AMA designed a four-part course that was delivered by two of its young women leaders, Sandra Villalta and Anabella Coc.

“At first, they couldn’t believe that we as young women would be their trainers, and we were nervous. But afterwards, it was very gratifying to hear MINEDUC professionals express their satisfaction with the training,” shared Sandra, who serves as AMA Project Coordinator.

Now that the curriculum advisors have learned how to use platforms like Zoom and Google Drive, they can adapt their teacher certification course for online instruction and train teachers over the coming months. The hope is that students will return to the classroom in 2021 and teachers will be ready to provide comprehensive sex education.

AMA continues to adapt to meet community needs. Its radio programs in both Spanish and Q’eqchi’, designed and hosted by young women, reach youth with important information about leadership, their rights, and now how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Recently, AMA carried out conversations with parents and teachers about the challenges of online learning. The organization also designed a bilingual poster with important messages about COVID-19 aimed at youth and then collaborated with the government to distribute the posters throughout the department with emergency funding provided by GFC at the onset of the pandemic.

Left: Young women leaders from AMA host their bilingual radio show “The ABC of Sexuality.” Right: AMA staff showing the bilingual posters with important messages on COVID-19. © AMA

Despite the obstacles faced and an uncertain road ahead, AMA remains committed to calling for policy changes that promote girls’ rights and yield concrete results for their comprehensive development as young people.

“Though some of our activities have been affected, we have been able to adapt and reinvent our programs and methodologies and demonstrate resilience,” reflected Francisco. “We see the value and power of advocating with decision-makers to reach the final outcome of benefiting girls and young women, and we will persist in the face of COVID-19.”

ABOUT THE INITIATIVE: EMPOWERING ADOLESCENT GIRLS IN CENTRAL AMERICA

With support from Dubai Cares, part of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, Global Fund for Children’s Empowering Adolescent Girls project leverages a network of 17 community-based organizations to promote gender equality and advance girls’ rights and opportunities in Central America. Learn more about the initiative and the partners it supports in this project summary.

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