5 Ways UN Programs Are Empowering Girls in Guatemala

Advocacy , Child Marriage , Education , Global Goals , Health , Leadership , Safety and Violence

On a recent learning trip to Guatemala, Girl Up staff visited rural areas of Guatemala to see first-hand the impact of joint UN partner programs that work to empower adolescent girls. We talked with girls and their parents, as well as teachers, about how a Girl Up-supported joint UN program in their community helps prevent child marriage and adolescent pregnancy so that girls have a chance to continue going to school and make a better future for themselves. The safe space program run by UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO, UN Women, and PAHO gives girls a place to meet, learn, and interact with other girls and mentors. The multi-faceted program takes a holistic approach to giving girls the tools they need to choose their own futures.

1. Preventing Child Marriage & Early Pregnancy

In many parts of rural Guatemala, girls are married as young as age 12 and begin having children immediately. For some, it is due to poverty; sometimes parents allow their daughters to be married for the dowry and are therefore one less mouth to feed. Adolescent pregnancy rates are also high in rural areas of Guatemala, which means that often girls marry at young ages.  The joint UNFPA, UNICEF, and PAHO safe space program that Girl Up supports starts by providing basic reproductive and sexual health educational programming so girls are equipped with the knowledge to begin making their own decisions about their futures.

“Only after I’ve graduated will I think about whether or not I want to get married. This is what I think. It’s my decision. I will graduate at 16 and I want to continue with secondary school.” Ursula, 12, participates in the program in Los Llanos de Tuices and adds that it teaches the importance of avoiding early marriage.

“I hope that the project continues and that it is able to help more girls have an education and be well and I hope they will be able to think for themselves, too.”

The programming includes educational materials that focus on gender equality and encouraging girls to continue education through secondary school and university.

2. Keeping Girls Healthy Inside & Out

One important aspect of the sexual and reproductive health programming is a focus on self-esteem. Girls are taught to value their voices, their opinions, and their bodies, with emphasis on a girl’s right to a life free from violence.

“Self esteem is to love yourself as you are, it doesn’t matter the opinion of another. If a person thinks you are nothing, you can take it because you have self esteem in yourself, you love yourself and value yourself. The other side of self esteem is to respect our bodies, respect our rights.” Alicia, 19, who hopes to one day be a safe space program leader in her community.

Nutritional programming is included in safe space curriculum, and many girls spoke of the lessons which includes cooking for energy, health, and nutrition.

3. Combatting Domestic Violence

In order to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence against girls and women, UNFPA’s White Ribbon Program starts with educational programming for adolescent boys to learn about gender equality, respect for women, and ways to prevent gender-based violence in their own homes and within the wider community.

In San Andres Xecul, Oscar, 15, spoke about what he has learned from the White Ribbon program, “Before, we thought women should only be in the house, not scientists or doctors. Now we know different. My favorite thing the campaign teaches us is to respect women more and to support them, like my mom I can help her at home.”

4. Helping Girls Make Their Voices Heard in Local Politics

Giving girls the tools to find their voice doesn’t end in the classroom. UNICEF’s Paz Joven program supports mentors that use grassroots advocacy and organizing to make sure that indigenous women have their voices heard in community politics at the local and national level. It also helps educate girls on their right to an education and equal rights under the law.

“Right now the girls can have a better future because now they know about their rights. Before we didn’t know our rights. Our parents would only give education to men because women are only going to get married or have children. Sometimes parents do that but not as much anymore. Now girls get the same education.” Lesuiandy, 19, a mentor in the Paz Joven program.

5. Entrepreneurship 

Another way the program equips girls with tools to choose their own futures, is by teaching crafts and entrepreneurship training so that even if girls can’t finish school due to family obligations, they can have control of their livelihoods. Sulema, 12, wants to continue her education onto university, but also enjoys the practical themes the program teaches. “They have taught us subjects like how to sew and cook. We learned how to cook fruit cocktails, cakes, tamales and other things. I made new friends in the program, too. It’s nice to have friends in the program because they are learning the same things as me.”