As Brazil continues to face an economic downturn and widespread government corruption, it’s clear that young people are the hardest hit by the crisis. Millions of adolescents live below the poverty line, and many are on the streets where they are prone to violence and sexual abuse. The North East of Brazil, the poorest region of the country along with the Amazons, is home to 75 percent of Brazilians who fall below the extreme poverty line. One of IWHC’s key partners, Grupo Curumim, is working across the region to make sure that young people’s rights are respected, and that they have access to quality education and health care, regardless of their social status.
Since 2001, Grupo Curumim, a feminist, rights-based organization, has run a youth leadership program, Cunhatã, which brings together adolescents to learn about health and human rights. The Cunhatã program provides leadership training for youths between the ages 13 to 15, and delivers vital information on sexuality, reproductive health, gender, communications, decision-making, and human rights, empowering young people to make healthy decisions in their own lives and encouraging them to participate in local activism in their communities.
With a long history of their own activism on sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s rights, the staff of Curumim help facilitate young people’s engagement in policy-making and local and national advocacy. This is a crucial approach to ensure that policies and programs for adolescent and young people’s health and wellbeing are both in place and fulfilled.
Talking about young people’s sexual rights, however, can be particularly challening. In the North of Brazil, Evangelicals make up nearly a third of the population (60 percent are Catholic). This has serious implications as religious leaders in many communities actively speak out against teaching comprehensive sexuality education, despite the fact that such programs have been proven to reduce pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among adolescents.
For these reasons, Curumim identified that it would be important to work closely with education and health officials to tackle some of this resistance, so that teachers and health care workers provide accurate information on sexual and reproductive health. In the city of Goiana, for example, Curumim focuses its training on community health workers, who are usually the first (and sometimes only) point of contact local residents have with the health care industry. These health workers provide local communities with a range of health services, but they are rarely trained on sexual and reproductive health issues generally, and almost never on adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
I recently visited one of Curumim’s training sessions in Goiana. Despite having limited resources, and a heavy work burden, the community health workers I met were eager to learn how to better serve the young people in their communities. The concerns and questions of the health workers varied: Some asked for support in denouncing situations of child abuse, while others admitted being uncomfortable discussing condoms with sexually active teenagers. In these trainings, Curumim provides not only practical guidance, but tackles the underlying issues that drive inequalities in communities: gender, race, and class, which they refer to as the “three pillars of inequalities.”
“By building the capacity of educators and health workers, we are creating a wider network of professionals who can serve adolescents in a safe and friendly way,” says Sueli Valongueiro, Curumim’s Coordinator. “Our expectation is that when adolescents, especially girls, receive accurate information about their bodies and their sexual health, they , are able to decide freely and consciously about their lives. They have a fundamental right to this information.”
Watch this video with Sueli to learn more about Curumim’s project in Goiana.