Written by Elise Gerard
El Salvador has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Latin America, with girls aged 10-19 accounting for nearly 1/3 of all pregnancies. When girls become mothers prematurely, the barriers to education are exponentiated and often become insurmountable. Teen pregnancy forces girls to drop out of school, which in turn affects the way they interact with the world, whether that is lack of job opportunities, lack of confidence, and/or shame. Teaching reproductive health to young girls is vital to their future health and well-being, helping them make an informed decision on when to enter motherhood.
During our recent Resource Conference in El Salvador, I facilitated a session for female educators titled “Empowering Girls through Reproductive Health Education.” I wanted to encourage the teachers regarding the influence they can and do have, particularly with their vulnerable, female students. Many of the teachers shared stories during our time together, highlighting the difficult realities that young girls in their culture face. When a girl is menstruating she will often skip school until her bleeding has stopped, missing many days of school every month. Over time, it is difficult to catch up on the schoolwork and some girls stop coming to school altogether.
One teacher shared that sometimes girls want to learn about reproductive health, and they will ask questions, but the girls don’t feel comfortable with the boys their age being around during the times they have to learn. I suggested they implement a “girls club” in order to spend focused time with just the female students after school. Some of the teachers attending my session liked the idea of separating boys and girls for respective reproductive health education and plan to stay in communication with me as they implement this new strategy.
Our team worked with Tara Garner, founder of NOVA Birth Services and author of a girls reproductive health curriculum titled “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” to create a Spanish version that we printed and provided for every attendee who came to my workshop. This resource will guide the teachers through topics such as puberty, hormones, bodily changes, natural coping methods for pain, and much more. Through educating girls on how their bodies function, teachers can cultivate confidence and an increased autonomy for their students at risk. Through equipping these teachers with information and strategies, we are helping empower young girls who will become empowered mothers, when they are ready.