Understanding cultures, improving reproductive health

In many developing countries, national health systems don’t always effectively reach certain groups of people with the information and services they need to stay healthy. Too often, the health services that are available are designed without sufficient regard for the cultures, beliefs, and traditions of those they  aim to reach, and the result is that essential information doesn’t get through to its intended audiences, and that urgently important health services don’t get utilized.  Many members of particularly marginalized groups — which can include teenagers who have left school or their home villages to seek work in the city, or indigenous populations living in poor, underserved rural communities — don’t know what they need to know about their sexual and reproductive health, and are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.

Fatimata Kané of FCI-Mali and Aboubacar Dembélé of AEJT—the Association des Enfants et Jeunes Travailleurs

FCI works with our local partners to address this challenge by developing culturally-sensitive programs for reaching vulnerable groups with the information and services they need. Working with out-of-school young people in the port city of Mopti, on the Niger River in Mali, West Africa, and with women and young people in remote indigenous villages in Ecuador, we have partnered with Interarts, with support from the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), to promote sexual and reproductive health and prevent HIV.

Maritza Segura of FCI-Ecuador presents at Barcelona meeting

In mid-February, Fatimata Kané, FCI’s country director in Mali, and Maritza Segura, our national coordinator in Ecuador, together with representatives from our local partner organizations, presented this work at a conference in Barcelona, Spain. This meeting, entitled “Culture and Sexual and Reproductive Health—towards a new interconnection:  A day to think, discuss and act,” was organized by Interarts as an opportunity for 50 NGOs, development agencies, migrant organizations, health workers, anthropologists, and educational professionals to share best practices and exchange ideas on the links between cultural rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and health. Meeting participants emphasized that integrated programs must focus on community needs, guarantee health rights, and respect local cultures and cultural rights. Understanding a community’s culture is essential to any health project’s success and sustainability, and is particularly important in efforts to modify behaviors that may have a negative impact on sexual and reproductive health, enabling programmers to identify bottlenecks and address issues in a participatory way.

Carmen Inés Guaminga Muyulema of Ecuarunari—the Kichwa Confederation of Ecuador

For the Barcelona conference, the representatives from FCI-Mali and FCI-Ecuador were accompanied by youth leaders from FCI’s project partners: AEJT (the Association of Working Children and Youth) in Mopti, Mali, and Ecuarunari (the Kichwa Confederation  of Ecuador). The team from Mali described their work with young people in Mopti’s ‘informal sector’ (domestic workers, market vendors, artisanal apprentices, etc.), and with the traditional leaders, employers, and parents who can influence them, to raise awareness about the consequences of negative and high-risk practices and to encourage cultural change for better sexual and reproductive health. (At first, taboos about discussions of sexuality made it difficult to involve religious leaders in the project; by sensitively integrating culture and religion into our approach, however, FCI was able to facilitate constructive dialogue by showing that religious texts do not actually support female genital mutilation and other negative practices.) The team from Ecuador discussed their work with indigenous women’s and youth groups to identify the traditions, beliefs, and cultural factors that lead to increased vulnerability to HIV, and to strengthen cultural values that can help prevent HIV and its attached stigma in indigenous communities.

Mah Doumbia, a peer educator in Mopti, Mali, educates young women about contraceptive methods


Passion and pride: Young people take to the radio

María Faget is Family Care International’s Regional Advisor in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

Last month, 21 young people from five Andean countries spent four days together learning radio production skills, recording professional-quality radio shows, and developing strategies for fighting teen pregnancy. The engine driving their work was the passion of these young people for their communities, and their outrage at the difficult realities they see around them every day. Motivated by their commitment to sexual and reproductive rights,  and fascinated by radio’s potential  to communicate positive messages to their peers,  these young people parted at the end of the workshop with pride,  satisfaction, and many new friendships.

Radio workshop, Bogota, ColombiaAll of this occurred at an innovative workshop, organized by FCI, that was held in Tenjo, near Bogotá, Colombia, as part of youth-participation component of the Andean Plan for the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (PLANEA). The workshop was conducted with financial support from UNFPA and the International Foundation,

Participants learned to use familiar stories, interviews, commentaries, and musical effects to illustrate various facets of teen pregnancy. Working with two professional audio editors and facilitators from Caracola Consultants, they ultimately succeeded in writing, producing, and recording seven complete radio programs.

One young participant summed up the experience like this:

I am so motivated, excited, pleased, and happy with all that we achieved in this workshop, the quality of speakers we met, and the friends from different countries whom we lived with. There is no way to say thank you … Now it is up to us to show, in the work we do back in our countries, how much this has empowered us.

To view a slideshow of the workshop, click here, and to hear their radio shows, click here.


Taller de producción radial: Pasión y orgullo

María Faget es Acesora Regional de Family Care International en  América Latina y el Caribe.

Estos dos conceptos pueden resumir lo que ocurrió durante los 3 1/2 días del taller de producción radial liderado por Caracola Consultores en las afueras de Bogotá.  En el marco de las actividades en participación juvenil del PLANEA, FCI, con apoyo financiero del UNFPA y de The International Foundation  organizó este encuentro-taller para fortalecer la articulación de las redes juveniles y su capacidad de comunicación e incidencia política. 

En esta oportunidad, veintiún jóvenes de 5 países del área andina trabajaron de sol a sol orientados por las facilitadoras, y con apoyo adicional de dos editores de audio lograron su meta: completar 7 programas radiales pregrabados

El reto estuvo claro desde el inicio: a través de una historia conocida, mediante entrevistas, comentarios, musicalización  y otros recursos de la crónica o el reportaje, cada uno de los 7 grupos debía mostrar una faceta del embarazo en la adolescencia y dejar un mensaje. La realización paso a paso de los programas fue un proceso muy rico de creatividad,  análisis y crítica participativa que además fortaleció el aprendizaje individual.

El esfuerzo durante el taller tuvo como motor la pasión de estos jóvenes por su trabajo en las comunidades. Movilizados por los temas de derechos sexuales y reproductivos, indignados por las realidades que ven en su entorno, conmovidos por los casos particulares, fascinados por las posibilidades de la comunicación y en particular de la radio, pusieron todo su espíritu y todo su empeño en la tarea creativa.  Los resultados fueron inmediatos, y el orgullo y la satisfacción de los y las jóvenes, manifestados claramente en sus evaluaciones sobre el taller  están plenamente justificados.

Los productos, las fotografías y los testimonios son – más que ningún informe – prueba de lo ocurrido y de lo logrado durante el encuentro.  Véanlos a continuación.

FCI at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Youth

Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

Yesterday at the United Nations, youth from around the world came together with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, government representatives and heads of UN agencies to open the two-day (July 25-26, 2011) United Nations High Level Meeting on Youth.  This meeting marks the culmination of the International Year of Youth which included  regional youth consultations, campaigns and a year of hard work by youth advocates globally. The High Level Meeting (HLM) has the theme “Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding” and we’re hoping that these two days lead not only to improved dialogue and understanding but also to new commitments and concrete action from governments and UN agencies to protect and improve youth health and rights.

Speaking on the first thematic panel of the day, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, noted that the world population will reach 7 billion people this year and that 1.8 billion of those people are youth. Echoing the calls of youth advocates to see the largest ever youth population as part of the solution to global issues rather than as a challenge, Dr. Osotimehin referred to the “demographic bonus” of having a strong generation of young people who are helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are at the forefront of advocating for protecting our environment in the Rio+20 process, and who are working hard to ensure and promote youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to comprehensive sexuality education.

Youth advocates participating in the HLM are highlighting the importance of bringing the perspectives, needs, and innovative ideas of young people to the international debate on development and achieving the Millennium Development goals. Leila Mucarsel, a sexual and reproductive health advocate from Argentina who also spoke on the first panel, defined real youth participation as ensuring  youth involvement in all levels of policymaking and programming-including planning, budgeting, development, implementation and monitoring and evaluation. Juan Camilo Saldarriaga from Costa Rica, an International Planned Parenthood Western Hemisphere youth advocate who spoke at a side event, called for an end to “tokenism,” government officials simply meeting with youth to say they’ve done so, rather than actually taking into account the needs and demands of youth.  Other youth advocates noted that youth participation goes beyond inviting a young person to sit at the table while adults make decisions but rather should include creating mechanisms to ensure that youth have the power to contribute to shaping programs and policies that affect them.

Unfortunately, the HLM itself has had mixed results on achieving youth participation. Youth advocates lamented the limited access they had to influence the Outcome Document for this High Level Meeting, many governments did not include any youth delegates in their country delegations to the meeting, and the panels and roundtables at the HLM often had more adult speakers than youth speakers. The young mayor of Geneva, 33 year old  Pierre Maudet who was a part of the Swiss delegation to the HLM, noted that governments are sometimes reticent to have youth speak out because they risk hearing criticisms, dissent and demands, but that when governments take that risk they also hear enthusiastic and important new ideas and innovative solutions to the needs of their populations.

In his remarks at the opening session of the HLM, the Secretary-General asked the youth delegates whether the UN was doing enough for youth. The resounding response from the crowd was, “No!” The Secretary-General responded, “Then we need to do more.” Youth advocates will continue their work to hold him to that promise.

For more updates from the 2011 High Level Meeting on Youth:

Read The Youth Coalition’s newsletter from the HLM The Watchdog

Watch the live webcasts from the High Level Meeting on Youth

And on Twitter, follow @familycareintl and these youth organizations that make up the Sexual and Reproductive Rights Caucus at the HLM: @youth_coalition, @YouAct_Europe, @AdvocatesTweets, @YPEER, @ippf, @GYCA, @ippf_WHR. For more tweets from the HLM, check out the hashtags #youth11 and #IYY