Tracie Mendez Saravia and her teenage daughter Jimena are leaders and advocates fighting to reduce the prevalence of violence perpetrated against girls and young women in Guatemala. Tracie is a graduate of Rise Up’s Let Girls Lead initiative, and leads Colectivo Joven (The Youth Collective), a Johnson & Johnson partner.
Colectivo Joven’s strategy is to build partnerships between community-based organizations, and to enable young women like Tracie’s daughter Jimena, to strengthen their leadership and participate actively in public forums and dialogues with key decision makers and health providers. Johnson & Johnson partners with Rise Up to support 3 grassroots organizations in Guatemala and Honduras that empower youth to address gender-based violence in their communities.
This is the second of 3 blog posts spotlighting how collective, community-oriented action is needed to end violence against women around the world.
How are you working to end violence against women or care for survivors of violence in your community?
Tracie (T): Our work in the Youth Collective in Jalapa is centered on the active participation of children and youth to solve problems that most affect them. I am extremely passionate about this work, and very committed to improving the economic and social situation of women in my country. Our community has a strong patriarchal culture, with very high incidence of violence against women and girls. Last year in Jalapa, where we have a population of about 150,000, there were 295 reported pregnancies in girls under 14, which is more than double the year before. These are essentially cases of child sexual violence.
Some of our most important work is to strengthen the capacities and knowledge of young women about their human rights, and to disseminate information about the implementation and monitoring of laws with women, local authorities and civil society. We also provide counseling to victims of violence.
I put all my strength, energy and conviction into every action I take so that I can contribute to improving the lives of women and girls and make my country a better place.
Jimena (J): We work with adolescent girls in the community, both in and out of school, to prevent sexual violence. We host informal talks about sexuality and sexual and reproductive rights so that women and girls are informed and feel empowered to demand their human rights. We talk about these important issues through games and other activities—we normally have around 75 girls in attendance.
We also educate decision makers in the government ministries and in the health sector by providing them with information and personal stories about adolescent girls we know who have gotten pregnant and those who have died during pregnancy or childbirth. This helps them better understand the situation in our state of Jalapa and in our country.
I do this work as a youth volunteer in support of Youth Collective and Rise Up’s Let Girls Lead program, because I believe that this work is important and it is my contribution to society. In the collective, I serve as the Coordinator for Childhood and Adolescence, coordinating our training activities, and I am also a co-facilitator in trainings on pregnancy prevention, sex education and family planning. In our advocacy programs my main role is to share the experiences of other adolescents that I know—to be a spokesperson for those girls and youth who cannot speak out for themselves.
What progress has you seen in your community to end violence against women?
T: We have advocated for the approval of a municipal-level policy impacting childhood, adolescence and youth. We have had productive dialogues with public adolescent health service providers who have agreed to prioritize differentiated care and services for adolescents. It is gratifying to see these changes in some key service providers.
In addition, we are having a more open dialogue with the public education sector. We are working with school administrators and directors to strengthen their knowledge and prioritizing of comprehensive sex education so that the state of Jalapa can fulfill its obligations to implement sex education in all public classrooms.
Adult-centric attitudes in our society have been a huge limitation, but with the training of adolescents and young people in the Collective, we have been able to demonstrate that youth are very capable, and that youth are the true opportunity for the development of our community. So many institutions now recognize us and open the door for us to continue advancing human rights, with a gender focus. For example, youth have had productive meetings with the reproductive health coordinator about how to make services more youth-friendly. Our youth have also dialogues with the mayor about how to invest more money in the youth of Jalapa.
J: Women are more knowledgeable and empowered about their rights, young girls and adolescents are more aware that their body belongs to them and no one can force them to do things that they do not want to do. Women have access to the information to decide how many children to have, if they want to have them, and how to identify violence when it happens. But there is still a lot of work to do with our institutions and authorities so our society as a whole recognizes that gender-based violence is a serious and widespread issue.
At the Youth Collective, one of our goals is to increase the capacity and visibility of youth, especially girls, as actors and not just beneficiaries. People are beginning to see this, but as I said, there is still much more work to do.
Who else in your community is part of the solution to ending gender-based violence?
T: We all must assume the commitment to end gender-based violence.
First, the government ministries of education, health, and social services as well as the judiciary need to do even more in terms of investment in violence prevention. They also must comply with the legal frameworks and public policies that guarantee the rights of women. Civil society, and especially the women and girls themselves, must be empowered and involved in advocacy processes to monitor compliance.
As a society we must realize that gender violence is not natural or normal, and recognize it as a social problem. We are all important actors of change, so it is very important to build alliances and strengthen awareness, work and conviction.
J: In order to eradicate gender-based violence, we all need to be united as key players: girls, boys, mothers and fathers, traditional authorities, all the government entities and civil society. We can work in partnership to unify efforts and carry out our work in a comprehensive and complementary way.
If we work in partnership with the authorities we can get a lot done, but to do that we have to be more present and visible in government meetings so that they realize that adolescents are the best way to reach other adolescents. If we can work to end government corruption and get states and municipalities to assign and implement budgets in favor of youth and health programs, we will go a long way towards solving gender-based violence.
Throughout the week of November 21 and in the lead up to the actual day, follow @JNJGlobalHealth as we share the importance of collective action within communities to drive forward action to eliminate violence against women.