Bolivian Youth Turn Their Needs into Reality

More than five million Bolivians live in poverty and approximately six million Bolivians are excluded from basic health services. For over two decades, CIES, IPPF/WHR’s Member Association in Bolivia, has played a lead role in addressing this critical situation.

In 2009 the Bolivian government adopted a new constitution, opening unprecedented opportunities to advocate for a range of issues that are often ignored. CIES leveraged this moment to demand accountability to the government's commitment to improving health programs and services for all Bolivians, particularly youth.

CIES began by organizing conversations with youth groups to better understand the health challenges they faced, such as unwanted pregnancy and sexual rights violations. These conversations evolved into the creation of extensive youth networks and a forum for building young people’s advocacy skills.

As more and more young advocates mobilized from around the country, CIES continued to forge ahead. It developed partnerships with the government and broadened opportunities for public participation at all levels of the decision-making process. Youth networks in El Alto, one of the country's most marginalized urban communities, began to work closely with local authorities to guarantee youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services would be included in Bolivia’s laws.

During the process many young people have not only been encouraged to raise their voices, but they've also been heard by government officials. One of these youth advocates is Rodolfo Palermo, a leader in El Alto’s youth network.

“In many cases, decision-makers knew nothing about the situation of young people—they believed young people didn’t have any problems,” he recounts. “But through the Voices project, I met with the authorities and demanded solutions for young people’s health problems. They started to listen to us and saw that we had well-grounded arguments. They started taking us seriously, and then things changed.”

The efforts of Rodolfo and his peers paid off. CIES and its youth network’s ongoing advocacy got a Municipal Ordinance passed in El Alto that requires specialized adolescent care to be provided by health centers offering sexual and reproductive health services.

This victory has had nationwide impact, and demands are now being made for similar changes in other parts of the country. The Ministry of Health has begun to address sexual and reproductive health publicly, particularly the need to offer specialized care for adolescents in all Bolivian health centers, and to develop a national program for preventing teen pregnancy.

In the years ahead, CIES will continue to hold the government accountable for its renewed commitment to improve the sexual and reproductive health of Bolivia’s youth. “The project allowed us to take our needs and demands to the municipal government," says Rodolfo. “Young people are the present. We come with ideas, contributions, and a desire to change the world.”

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