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Women’s Well-Being as a Human Right

Thelma Suchí 

The International Day of Action for Women’s Health is celebrated every May 28th. This day of recognition was created as a response to the grave health problems suffered by millions of women in various countries, due to poverty, violence, wars, discrimination, social exclusion, and the lack of investment in health issues. Its objective is to reaffirm healthcare as a human right for women, one that should be accessible without restrictions or exclusions of any kind, throughout women’s entire life cycle. This date was proposed 36 years ago, during the 5th International Conference of Women and Health in Costa Rica in 1987, by the Network of Health for Latin American and Caribbean Women. 

Health is a human and constitutional right whose legal basis is expressed in diverse obligations that the States must meet according to the conventions, protocols, and international declarations signed by Guatemala. Maternal care is part of the right to health, and maternal death and teenage pregnancies are considered a reflection of women’s social inequality, and of the weak functioning of health systems. In 2009, the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations (UN) agreed to consider avoidable maternal death to be a grave violation of human rights, a problem that not only affects women, but the population in general. 

Quality of Life 

To enjoy good health is a fundamental human right, and takes into account a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing necessary to perform an active role in society. In this sense, both women and girls have the right to enjoy an optimal state of health. 

Wellbeing has to do with how women take care of themselves, and as a result, has a great impact on the diverse factors of their lives. If someone does not feel well or healthy, it is difficult for them to concentrate on other aspects of life. Wellbeing also includes mental and emotional health, which is closely linked to quality of life. 

In contemporary society, women and girls should be protected, because they represent the most vulnerable population in terms of health and other necessities; these include the lack of access to information and quality services in preventative healthcare, teenage pregnancies, and maternal death. It is important to highlight that in most cases, these women are usually unemployed, part-time workers, or in the informal sector, and thus, lack rights to health services. 

Forced Lives 

To understand this reality, it is necessary to appeal to hard statistics and data. Only in the year, 2022, according to data monitored by the Observatory of Reproductive Health (OSAR), 2,187 births were registered from girls 10 to 14 years old, based on the reporting from the National Registry of Persons (RENAP). It is outrageous merely to think of a single girl being forced into motherhood at such an early age, as the product of sexual abuse. Meanwhile, 65,501 became mothers between 15 and 19 years of age. This data is just as alarming, considering that, due to the living conditions for teenagers in the country, many of them may be experiencing a second or third pregnancy. Quetzaltenango registered 131 births from mothers 10-14 years old, and 3168 from 15-19. All of this only maintains the cycle of poverty, violence, and malnutrition as a part of these women and girl’s lives. 

In the year 2022, on a national level, 328 women died in pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. 90% of the deaths could have been preventable. Among these victims were two girls under 14 and 35 teenagers under 19. In Quetzaltenango this year alone, 20 women passed away, with 20% from the teenage population, and 70% belonging to the indigenous community. 

Compared with the rest of the population, women in indigenous communities suffer greater malnutrition and death due to preventable illnesses. The health centers in their towns tend to be insufficiently equipped, lacking even basic resources. The portion of expenses dedicated by the State to these shortages is minimal, especially compared with the national health budget. 

In spite of the difficulties, challenges, and inequalities, it is important to think about solutions that can help us pursue quality and integral health attention, culturally relevant and accessible, in order to achieve full sexual and reproductive health, healthy motherhood, and attention to preventable illness and mental health in contexts of violence against women. 

This is a call to the competent authorities to assign the financial resources to guarantee that girls, teenagers, and women have access to integral health services, and to comprehensive sexual education for the prevention of teenage pregnancies. 

This comprehensive sexual education, based on scientific evidence, should be provided by teachers who have specialized training and adequate and innovative methodologies, and should have didactic materials and resources necessary for a good classroom performance. 

There should be an implementation and strengthening of friendly spaces that provide personal aid, with an emphasis on the prevention of teenage pregnancies, as well the reduction of cases of STIs and HIV. 

Young adults and women in general should have access to contraceptive methods in health services without discrimination based on age, gender, or ethnicity. Counseling on methods of contraception should be made more available, along with the provision of awareness chats for parents to reduce opposition to birth control access. 

Strategies should be implemented to identify teenagers and young adults not participating in formal education, in order to provide them with access to comprehensive sex education as a right. 

We must guarantee the safety of girls, teenagers, and women when it comes to working on a grassroots level to prevent sexual violence. 

“As women, we all have a right to health, without any kind of restrictions or exclusions.” – 

Telma Suchi, Mayan K’iche leader, technical facilitator for the Observatory of Reproductive Health in Quetzaltenango.