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GUATEMALA: For Mayan Girls, Safe Spaces Lead to Social Gains - The Population Council.

By Kelly Hallman, Eva Roca, Marta Julia Ruiz, Jennifer Catino, Alejandra Colom, and Sandra Contreras Aprile.

Guatemala’s population is poorer, less educated, younger, faster growing, and more ethnically diverse than most others in Latin America (Dries-Daffner et al. 2007). The country’s fertility and infant mortality rates are among the highest in Latin America (AGI 2006). Nearly half of the Guatemalan population is indigenous. More than 20 Mayan groups live in isolated rural areas, with limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation, passable roads, schooling, and media. Seventy-five percent of Mayans live in poverty (INE 1999; INE 2001). Mayan girls are the country’s most disadvantaged group, leading lives characterized by early marriage, limited schooling, illiteracy, frequent childbearing, social isolation, limited life options, and chronic poverty. To help break this cycle and enable Guatemalan girls to reach their full potential, the Population Council, in collaboration with Federación de Salud Infantil y Reproductiva de Guatemala (FESIRGUA) and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), launched a pilot project in August 2004 to increase Mayan girls’ social support networks, connect them with role models and mentors, build a base of critical life skills, provide professional training, and strengthen their capacity to mobilize resources. The project, known as Abriendo Oportunidades (or Opening Opportunities), aimed to strengthen local NGOs and create “safe spaces” for young women to gather in their communities to gain practical skills and build social networks.

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