Family Planning

PAI’s Friends Study Tour: Mexico City

The haze of pollution that shrouds Mexico City, obscuring views of the mountains that surround the sprawling city, lifted on our first morning, giving us clear views of the hills that lie just outside of the city limits.  However, as soon as Michele Duryea, the Vice President of Development, and I were seated in the back of Hugo’s red “Chevy,” making our way through dense early morning traffic, my eyes began to burn.  It quickly became clear that Mexico City’s pollution is there to greet every newcomer, and that urbanization was not a subject we had to seek out; we could simply sit amidst thousands of cars, exhaust fumes and blaring horns and observe.  

Mexico City BuildingsOn our way to the first of several meetings in our whirlwind trip to check out the many organizations that we will visit on PAI‘s Friends Study Tour to Mexico (in February), I was impressed by the diversity of scenery that passed by the car window:  enormous artistic sculptures, small stores with hand-painted signs, 17th century buildings, and expensive clothing stores all formed the eclectic mix.

I was even more impressed by the passionate female advocates we met
throughout the day as we visited small but mighty organizations working
to promote women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.  I was
struck by how most women spoke about la defensa, “the defense,” of
women’s rights, clearly describing their work as a battle.  While
Mexican society is modern in many respects, there are still significant
barriers to women’s equality.  

Our first stop of the day was with PAI’s partner agency, Equidad de Género
where we met their dynamic Executive Director, Maria Eugenia, and
equally energetic staff member, Emily Barcklow.  Eagerly, they told us
the triumphant story of how working in a secret alliance comprised of
organizations that work to advance women’s sexual and reproductive
rights, they were able to achieve an unprecedented reform – on April
24, 2007, the Legislative Assembly voted to decriminalize abortion
up to the twelfth week of pregnancy in Mexico City (it remains illegal
except under certain circumstances in the rest of the country.)  
Moreover, the comprehensive bill requires the Ministry of Heath to
provide legal abortion services, free of charge, to any woman who
requests it.  

I was excited to hear a success story –
especially since our work on the sexual and reproductive health and
rights (SRHR) front seems to often be a slow, up-hill battle.  It was
refreshing to hear a testament to the power of policy and advocacy
work.  And PAI’s partner had taken the lead!  However, sobering news
followed:  Equidad de Género and the Alliance will have to protect the
landmark reform in the Supreme Court this spring.     

Woman and childLater
that afternoon, at a rural clinic in an indigenous community near
Tepoztlán, south of Mexico City, I listened to the clinic’s nurse tell
us about how family planning use had increased  substantially over the
past twenty years among the population that the clinic serves.  Women
are now able to access contraceptives and limit their family size to
two or three children instead of five or six.  Another story of
success!  And yet, she went on to tell us of  how young girls in these
communities are having babies, some as young as twelve years old – 
family planning seems to only begin after the birth of the first
child.  Several issues, such as stigma, keep women from accessing
contraceptives at the clinic before they become sexually active.  

we left the clinic I saw a sweet looking young girl holding her shy
infant and thought of how much had been achieved in this community and
throughout Mexico in regards to SRHR and how much work is still
needed.     But luckily, as we have seen, there are plenty of
impassioned women here that will defend these rights and work to
advance them.  And participants in PAI’s Friends Study Tour will have
the chance to speak with these strong women themselves, hearing about
the issues that face women in Mexico as they seek reproductive health
and equality.

It isn’t too late to join PAI’s Study Tour to Mexico! To
become a participant in this six day excursion to Mexico City,
Cuernavaca, and Tepoztlán — where we will visit clinics, and speak
with Mexican service providers, women’s rights advocates, and NGO
leaders — or to find out more details about the trip, contact me at
(202)-557-3425, or cbixiones(AT)popact(DOT)org. 

Christine Bixiones, Special Initiatives Coordinator

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