When Reprolatina arrived in Barro Alto, a city in Goiás State, Brazil, 40 percent of pregnancies were teen pregnancies, twice that of the national rate. The root of the problem quickly became evident: There was no sexuality education in schools and a lack of access to contraception. This, coupled with an influx of mine workers employed at a newly opened nickel mine in the city, led to skyrocketing teen pregnancy rates.
“Our main objective was to build a prevention culture to decrease young people’s vulnerability,” says Maggie Diaz, President of Reprolatina. With funding from Anglo American and technical support from IWHC, Diaz and her team at Reprolatina developed a comprehensive outreach project in Barro Alto. They worked with community members, educators, health care providers, teenagers, and mine company employees to integrate information about sexual health and contraception into school curricula and into the community, with a special focus on adolescent girls.
“We needed to empower the population, mainly girls, so they can make safe decisions on how, with whom, and when to initiate their sexual life and have safe sex, and to protect themselves against violence,” she says.
The results so far have been outstanding. The number of adolescent girls giving birth dropped from 40 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2012.
One mother from the region reveled in the results: “Before Reprolatina you would see a lot of girls walking in the street pregnant. It was very common, even in the schools. Every year about 5 or 6 pregnant girls had to drop out of school. After Reprolatina came with this project, you don’t see pregnant girls. There are no pregnant girls in the schools anymore. To me, this is one of the best results!”
Reprolatina partnered again with Anglo American in its Minas Rio iron-ore mining site. Instead of focusing on teen pregnancy, the goal here was to reduce sexually transmitted infections in three municipalities near the Minas Rio.
As always, Reprolatina first studied the situation and assessed the factors driving the problem. Diaz recounted one conversation with an on-site doctor:
“I remembered when I interviewed the physician of workers’ health. I asked if she asked the workers—her patients—about STDs during examinations. She said no. I asked if she offered condoms to workers, and she answered, ‘no, they are alone, without families.’ And I said well, you have 700 men here. There are men who have sex with men. And she said, ‘No. Really?’ I said: ‘Yes, they’re having sex.’”
Diaz convinced the doctor to talk to her patients about safer sex and provide condoms and lubricants. “She did it,” says Diaz. “Then it started to appear: some diagnoses of STDs. So now we have diagnoses and possibility of treatment. We increased the use of condoms by more than 500 percent. So this project in Minas Rio was also a success.”
Reprolatina also invited mine workers to act as educational agents inside their companies by integrating sexual health, STD prevention, and contraception lessons into their “Daily Dialogue on Health” chart, a chart workers pass every day.
But the project that best exemplifies Reprolatina’s reach and influence on sexual and reproductive health issues is the popularity of its Living Adolescence website, which received 1,800,000 visitors in 2012. The site remains a premier source of information on sexual and reproductive health, hosting a forum where visitors can ask questions related to sex, sexual health, contraception, violence, and other issues.
The site also serves as meeting place where young activists can connect and collaborate with each other and Reprolatina on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues and develop advocacy strategies around them. The site encourages youth input and participation in advocacy and policymaking through tools such as forums, polls, and news feeds that facilitate discussions about current sexual health policies in Brazil.
The website is just one of the building blocks in foundation that Reprolatina continues to fortify through its research, advocacy, and activism.
“We need to work side by side with adolescents, so we can open the door for them,” Diaz says. “But we cannot do it for them. We need to do it with them.”