The current situation in Guatemala in terms of social and economic development – especially within indigenous communities–is often described as critical. In comparison to its Latin American counterparts, Guatemala has extremely high rates of maternal mortality, gender inequality, poverty, and childhood malnutrition.
The Guardian recently reported that last year, 5,100 girls under 15 became pregnant in Guatemala. “Cultural practices, lack of education, endemic violence, and the hold of the Catholic church over decisions on reproductive health make girls in Guatemala easy prey for abuse and vulnerable to early pregnancy’’ (The Guardian 2015).
During our recent clinics in different rural communities, we saw alarming amounts of cases of malnutrition among children, many cases of urinary and uterus infections in women, and many young mothers arriving to the clinics. Based on these needs, we have begun to seek new partners to support with further education and advanced healthcare trainings and clinics.
We are happy to share with you the first initiative realized to further the education of sexual health and reproductive rights. Two weeks ago, we offered a 2-day intensive workshop to the 14 midwives from our partner organization Asociación de Terapeutas Ancestrales de los Conocimientos Mayas de Sololá in Panajachel. The workshop was held by WINGS, locally known as ALAS, a Guatemalan-based non-profit organization that has provided family planning education and access to reproductive health services since 1999.
“It is not uncommon that women in Guatemala have children at the age of 14. We have seen families with 10 to 15 children. These children face a very limited future, as their parents often cannot afford education. We are very glad that Maya Traditions supports local midwives to further their knowledge around family planning, and has invited us to hold this workshop’’ (Evelyn Roquel, Family Planning Promoter, WINGS).
Throughout the workshop, the group shared and discussed common problems in their communities. The majority pointed out poverty, alcoholism, and overall lack of education. “These midwives told us that many women simply lack the financial resources to consult with a doctor regarding family planning. Shockingly, there are also frequent cases of unwanted pregnancies that result from women feeling obliged to have sex with their husbands when intoxicated. These women need more information, education, and also emotional support on family planning and their reproductive rights. Young girls especially have little idea of what sex is and what it can lead to. They aren’t learning about this topic, not in school nor in their homes” (Marisol Morales, Programs Coordinator, Maya Traditions).
The main aim of the workshop was to provide these midwives with relevant information and enhance their education in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights. This includes learningabout sexual infections and the different methods of family planning. Natural methods were also discussed. “We know that many midwives are not fully educated on the internal and external organs of the female and masculine body – some do not know how to read and write. So it was a very important part of the workshop to educate these women on this topic” (Evelyn Roquel, Family Planning Promoter, WINGS).
“The workshop was extremely helpful for us. We learned about different methods of birth control that we didn’t know before. Family planning is a big taboo in my community. It is in the woman’s destiny how many children she will have. But working with women in my community, I understand the high need of family planning and now am able to provide profound advice on different methods. It’s important that we are able to provide as much support as possible to these women, to ensure that there is no misuse of contraceptives’’ (Elena, midwife in San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlán).
Evelyn Roquel and Ana González are Family Planning Promoters with WINGS and held the 2-day workshop in collaboration with Maya Traditions and the Asociación de Terapeutas Ancestrales. They work to visit families and communities throughout Guatemala, analyzing the situation and providing education and support. ‘‘A lot of ‘machismo’ still exists in Guatemala, which means that men are often the only ones to work and are in charge of making decisions for the family. When I speak with these women, I try to convey that they have the right to plan their family, to make decisions over their own body, and to decide how many children they want to have. Family planning would provide many more possibilities for these women.”
For further information on WINGS, visit their website or watch the video “It all begins with family planning”.
If you want learn more about women rights and gender equality in Guatemala, we recommend reading a recent article from The Guardian.