'No more Beatrizes': Making history in Montevideo
"Our decisions about our bodies should be respected": Amnesty International youth activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean in Montevideo, Uruguay, last week. © Amnesty International
By Amnesty’s delegation in Montevideo, Uruguay
“We’re still celebrating,” activists said about the historic agreement made in the Uruguayan capital last week, at the First Regional Conference on Population and Development.
The Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development followed four days of intense debate among young people and civil society members. It involved more than 800 people from 24 regional and international agencies and approximately 260 NGOs, including Amnesty.
Representatives from 38 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean agreed, among other highlights, to
- invest in comprehensive sexuality education
- provide timely and confidential access to information and good quality services, and
- to combat and eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. This is crucial in a region where gender-based violence is reaching epidemic proportions.
Another step forward was the recognition of sexual rights as being independent of reproduction, encompassing the right to a full and safe sex life.
Youth activists fight for their rights
Sabrina Frydman from Argentina was one of 13 youth activists from Amnesty offices across Latin America and the Caribbean who met with other young people ahead of the conference to define their key calls and priorities.
“It was certainly a challenge,” she told us. “Eighty young people from 17 countries met to discuss the future we want and how to get our voices heard by representatives of our governments.”
But ultimately, the outcome was positive. A strong statement was made at the opening of the conference emphasizing comprehensive sexuality education, access to sexual and reproductive health services, and substantive youth participation in the decision-making process. “The negotiation process was tough, but very rewarding,” Sabrina said.
Vicente, 26, from Amnesty International Paraguay, commented: “I feel enriched by having met young people who are working in different places on the same issues trying to make change possible.” “It was a great experience for me as an activist,” said Lucia, 23, from Amnesty International Uruguay.
The very real gains of the Consensus – in which States agreed to prioritize the prevention of unwanted pregnancies among adolescents, and which explicitly recognizes children, young people and adolescents as “rights-holders and stakeholders in development” – was without doubt a major achievement for the region’s youth, who worked hard to mobilize around the conference.
One quarter of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean are young people. As Sabrina says, “Our decisions about our bodies should be respected.”
No more Beatrizes
The recent case of Beatriz, a young woman who received a life-saving c-section only after months of international pressure on the Salvadoran authorities, caused an international outcry, inspiring thousands of people to campaign on her case.
s Salvadoran activist Sara Garcia put it, “the indifference of the state to the brutal injustice of this situation was scandalous”.
Latin America and the Caribbean has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, with a total ban in place in five countries – which makes the strong message sent from Montevideo all the more significant.
The groundbreaking Consensus urges States “to consider amending their laws, regulations, strategies and public policies” relating to abortion, “in order to protect the lives and health of women and adolescent girls, to improve their quality of life and to reduce the number of abortions”.
It includes the explicit recognition that, in the experience of some countries, criminalizing abortion doesn’t reduce the number of abortions that take place, but instead leads to the death and serious injury of many women and girls.
It also calls for safe, good-quality abortion services to be available for women with unwanted pregnancies, where abortion is legal or decriminalized under national legislation.
“We want no more Beatrizes in El Salvador, or in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Sara declared.
Looking to the future
Too many women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean still feel as if they have no real ownership over their bodies. They are constantly prevented from making their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.
If these agreements are implemented, things will become much fairer in the region, with sexual and reproductive rights being a real part of human rights for all.
States must now make good on these promises. Particularly important is the pledge they made to allocate resources to back up their commitments, and to recognise the importance of establishing clear monitoring and accountability mechanisms that involve civil society in all its diversity.
In the meantime, world leaders continue to meet to review progress on the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action. Next up, governments across the Asia-Pacific region will assemble in Bangkok in September.
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Read about the Montevideo Consensus in Sexual and reproductive rights in Latin America and the Caribbean: governments of the region reach historic agreement