Young people improving their sexual and reproductive health and rights
Between 2015 and 2017 we partnered with the Colombian NGO, Fundación Si Mujer, to set up and run a 'Child and Youth Friendly Healthcare Service' in the Colombian city of Cali.
This work was made possible thanks to grants from the Big Lottery Fund and the Evan Cornish Foundation.
Through this project, we hoped to shine a light on the hidden nature of sexual violence against children in Colombia by creating an environment where children could understand their right to be free from it, speak out against it and engage their families and communities in talking about it.
The Service is located in Fundación Si Mujer’s HQ in the centre of Cali. A ‘Mobile Service’ also serves Cali’s most marginalised communities.
What has been achieved?
Overall, the Service reached 10,000 children and young people who may otherwise have had no access to professional, un-biased information, advice or care on critical issues around sexual health, unwanted pregnancies, and sexual and domestic violence.
Sexual healthcare provision
1,915 young people accessed first-time medical and psychological consultations from Si Mujer’s professionals, a full 60% more than planned.
4,282 consultations about contraception were made over the 3 years, again almost 60% above target.
This high uptake of Si Mujer’s medical services demonstrates the critical need for accessible, youth-friendly sexual healthcare in the Cali region; a gap which Si Mujer’s Service has been able to fill with great success.
More than 2,200 young Service users reported being able to make an informed choice about contraception usage in the future and more than 1,100 girls and young women reported being able to make informed decisions about their unwanted pregnancies.
100% of young people reported satisfaction with the support they received.
Education on sexual and reproductive rights
300 young people took part in 40 hours of training in sexual and reproductive health and rights. They learnt about issues of self-care, contraception, STIs, gender, sexual diversity, sexual violence, gender-based violence and abortion.
“You never get bored, there are always games, it’s very dynamic. Everybody participates and the people who train us are very open-minded, which makes you feel free to express yourself.”
As well as encouraging the young people to take care of their own sexual health, the training also gave them the skills and confidence to replicate educational activities with other young people in their community. Through more than 100 ‘replicas’, they reached approximately 3,000 young people, tackling taboos, misinformation and prejudices around the subjects of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and sexual and gender-based violence.
“I did my replica in school on HIV and AIDS because it’s a subject most people don’t know much about. We ended up talking about abortion too, for the same reason - people don’t know.”
70 young people participated in further, more in-depth training seminars run by experts in sexual and reproductive health and human rights advocacy.
Using what they learnt, the young participants supported Si Mujer’s staff to run ‘Mobile Service’ outings, and organised campaigns, festivals and film forums in schools and public places around the city. These initiatives reached over 7,000 children and young people and their families from communities with limited access to basic services, and high levels sexual and domestic violence, as well as specific populations such as young people affected by HIV, in care and/or with disabilities.
The young people found that the more they talked about issues of gender and sexuality, they were able to change the way in which people talked about the topics.
“I kept talking to my friends and after some time I saw a huge change. There is not as much ‘machismo’ among them as before. I am the only one in the group who is openly gay and I don´t feel the same burden about it as I used to”.
The young people also participated in a range of regional, national and international advocacy events. In 2017, three youth leaders were the only young people participating in a sexual and reproductive health and rights conference in Peru alongside 550 attendees. Youth leaders were also instrumental creating ‘Diverse Youth Cali’, an initiative to promote and defend the sexual and reproductive rights of LGTBI young people in Cali.
Youth leadership within the Service
A ‘Youth Steering Committee’ has become one of the Service’s greatest strengths. It was created to strengthen youth leadership and participation, as well as to be a space for learning, planning and collective creation.
Between 15 and 23 young people from the Service met every other week. These meetings became the main mechanism for monitoring, evaluating and making adjustments to the Service along the way. The Committee’s suggestions – which were always based on feedback received from other Service users – led to adjustments to make the Service more and more useful for young people and more efficient in reaching its target groups.
“[The Committee] has become a second home, it’s just as important to me as university. They have provided me with life options by showing me all the things that can be done and the possibilities and choices that I have.”
Strengthening other local Child-Friendly Healthcare Services
The team ran 48 meetings with over 600 staff (adults and young people) from other Services from across Colombia. They used these meetings to train the attendees in sexual and reproductive health and rights issues and to share tips for developing youth leadership and instilling it as a core value within the Service.
As the relationship between the young people form the different Services strengthened, the exchange of ideas and knowledge took on a life of its own, with the young people frequently meeting of their own accord.
The success of Si Mujer’s Service helped to raise the expectations of others:
“The municipality didn’t collaborate with us because we didn’t do anything, or because they didn’t know what we were doing. Now Si Mujer has taught us to be strong and brave, to know we can achieve things by our own means. Now doors are opened for us, enabling us to do bigger things in the municipality.”
Sustainable change – on-going protection of young people’s rights after our support ends
The Service’s flexibility and participative approach to developing youth leadership was undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of this project. This has ensured the sustainability and relevance of the Service going forward.
The reach of the changes in the lives of the youth leaders has exceeded expectations. These youth leaders are taking the initiative to train others and drive change in their communities and other parts of Colombia as they move away to work and study. Many of the young people are making decisions about their future careers based on what they have learnt about sexual and reproductive rights and human rights in general.
In 2017, for example, a young man who was on the Youth Committee won a grant to study law in Bogota. He was elected Coordinator of ‘Stonewall’ (the university’s LGBT+ rights group). Alongside university staff and student representatives he developed a care protocol for victims of discrimination within the university. Thanks to his experience with Si Mujer, the protocol has a strong component of care for victims of sexual violence.
The youth leaders have documented what they found to be best practice for mobilising young people to promote and defend sexual and reproductive rights in a series of pamphlets. These are available to Child Friendly Healthcare Services nationally, but also serve as a unique and inspiring tool for any organisation in any country worldwide that seeks to develop youth leadership in sexual and reproductive rights issues within its services or organisational structure.
The quotes included in this article are direct translations of comments made by young people and staff who participated in the Service’s activities, which were collected by an external evaluator in 2017. A copy of the full external evaluation is available on request.