Healthy People, Healthy Planet: Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Environment

“Human life and the natural world are inseparable.”Saul Pauu Maaz, GOJoven Fellow and indigenous Q’eqchi’ Mayan leader, author of “The Earth is Not Ours, We Merely Borrow it From Our Children: Lessons from the Maya Q’eqchi”

If human life and the natural world are inseparable, then so are reproductive rights and environmental sustainability. Here at GOJoven, we believe that women have a right to choose if, when and how often they have children and that this choice leads to better health outcomes and a healthier planet.  In celebration of World Environment Day on June 5, 2014 GOJoven reflects on the importance of connecting population, health and the environment in our quest to improve the lives of youth and adolescents where we work in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

Across the globe, organizations and policy makers are calling for investment in programs that connect population, health and environment. Pathfinder International notes that  an integrated Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) approach that addresses both sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and the environment has a “greater impact on improving reproductive health and natural resource management outcomes” and is more cost-effective than addressing each issue separately.


Population, Health, Environment

The link between SRH and the environment resembles a multi-directional roundabout, rather than a one way street.  Environmental degradation leads to negative health outcomes.  As Charlotte Brody and Julia Varshavsky’s point out in their article The Flip Side: How the Environment impacts Our Reproductive Health, the chemicals that poison our food and the car exhaust that pollutes the air we breathe can lead to infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects, among other issues. Conversely, lack of sexual and reproductive health rights limits women’s and families’ abilities to adapt to environmental stresses by choosing if, when and how often to have children. On the positive side, reduced population growth resulting from providing sexual and reproductive health services and choices enables communities better to manage their natural resources; while community collaboration to promote sustainability itself builds community resilience and promotes health.

GOJoven Mexico, a new youth-led organization in Quintana Roo, Mexico created by Fellows of the Public Health Institute’s Youth Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program (GOJoven), is taking action to protect reproductive rights and the environment.

We recently interviewed the Secretary of the GOJoven Mexico Board of Directors, Lemuel Vega, to see what he had to say about SRH and the natural world. Lemuel has worked hard to conserve and monitor sea turtles in Cozumel, and has participated in international spaces such as the United Nations Climate Change Conferences, COP 16 in Quintana Roo in 2010 and COP 17 in South Africa in 2011 to advocate for environmental conservation and connect it to reproductive health. Lemuel has observed that “unplanned adolescent pregnancy leads to school dropouts among both girls and boys; among girls because they need to give birth, and among boys because they have to work to support their new family.” This ultimately leads to youth unemployment, an increase in poverty, and an unsustainable use of local natural resources.

Knowing the link between sexual and reproductive health and a healthy environment, Lemuel told us that one solution is to teach comprehensive sexual education in schools so that youth can make responsible and informed decisions about their sexual behavior and fertility. GOJoven Mexico steps in during high school student’s mandatory chemistry classes to teach them about SRH and their right to choose if, when and how often they have children.

The benefits of GOJoven’s work to educate youth about their sexual and reproductive rights move beyond promoting safe sex and planned families. GOJoven’s work helps create a healthy planet and a safe space for all of us to raise happy families, because human life and the natural world are indeed inseparable.

Help GOJoven Mexico continue to do this work by visiting their Spotlight Page and making a contribution to the program today!

GOJoven Mexico is proud to teach young people about their sexual and reproductive health and rights

GOJoven Mexico is proud to teach young people about their sexual and reproductive health and rights


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This year, Public Health Institute turns 50!

phi50 logoFor half a century Public Health Institute (PHI) has been dedicated to improving the health, well-being and quality of life for people around the world.

Throughout 2014 we will be sharing PHI’s numerous accomplishments to improve the public’s health in California, in the US, and across the globe.  This includes highlighting the important impact of our numerous programs and projects on thousands of people, organizations and communities.

Each month PHI will highlight a specific area of work and plot PHI programs’ contributions to that area on a timeline.

Youth trained by GOJoven Honduras

Youth trained by GOJoven Honduras

  • In January PHI began by providing an overview of the 50th Anniversary
  • In February PHI highlighted GOJoven’s work in the area of Women, Children and Youth
  • March focused on Tech and Innovation projects
  • April highlighted PHI’s large body of work in Food Policy, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention
  • In May PHI focused on GOJoven’s growing work in Environmental Health and Climate Change

banner_shape-the-futureWhile PHI is turning 50, our Youth Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program (GOJoven) is turning 10! Over the years we have collaborated with over 200 youth leaders and their organizations in four countries, and now our graduates are creating a regional movement of young leaders in sexual and reproductive health and rights. GOJoven graduates are working hard to establish their own organizations to further the mission of GOJoven:

For over 10 years GOJoven has been inspiring youth leaders with the power of change to ensure that youth human rights are promoted and protected everywhere. Stay up to date with GOJoven’s progress in the region by liking us on Facebook  and subscribing to news updates below.

You can share your thoughts about what public health has accomplished–and what we need to do in the next 50 years–on PHI’s Facebook page or Twitter feed using #phi50, or by emailing PHI directly.


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GOJoven Fellows Advocate for Youth SRHR at CDP47

Plenary sessions at the CDP47

Plenary sessions at the CDP47

From April 2 to 11, 2014 three GOJoven Fellows advocated for the inclusion of youth and sexual and reproductive rights in policy and programming at the United Nation’s 47th Commission on Population and Development (CPD47) held at the UN headquarters in New York. Wendy Aguilar represented GOJoven Honduras, Ingrid Galvez represented GOJoven Guatemala, and Nancy Leiva represented GOBelize. Nancy also sat on the official National Delegation of Belize with government and civil society representatives, participating in closed negotiations on behalf of Belize.

These three Alumni were selected and sponsored by IWHC and its partners to attend the Global Caucus, Latino Caucus, and Youth Caucuses, as well as an Advocacy in Practice training prior to CPD47. All three fellows were selected for their prior experience in advocacy, including their participation in the First Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean in Montevideo, Uruguay, in August 2013, giving input into the resolution document. At CPD47 the Fellows advocated for country governments to be accountable in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action and the inclusion of sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents and youth into the final CPD47 outcome document. You can access the outcome resolution titled “Assessment of the Status of Implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development” on our SRH Resources page, here.

Read these three young Central American women leaders’ first-hand accounts below:

Nancy Leiva

Nancy Leiva

Nancy Leiva:

“The work is not over yet! As everyone returned back home it is clear that more work at national levels is key to making the final document for Post 2015 progressive and favorable to SRHR [sexual and reproductive health and rights]. I think it is key that GOJoven fellows like myself continue to take part in and follow-up with these conferences because the learning experience is essential and it empowers youth to hold their governments accountable to their actions especially with respect to these documents….As a result of this experience I was able to share information with the CEO of the Human Development Department of Belize about the work of GOBelize and we hope to have a meeting with her to discuss our work.”

Wendy with Latin America and Honduras UNFPA representatives

Wendy with Latin America and Honduras UNFPA representatives

Wendy Aguilar:

“My participation in this event has left me with new knowledge about regional and global advocacy as it relates to meetings where decisions are made that affect the whole world…For GOJoven Honduras it is very important to participate in these local, regional, and global advocacy processes, because we’re conscious of how these decisions positively and negatively affect the way human rights, especially sexual rights and reproductive rights, are exercised.”

Ingrid Galvez speaks with UNFPA's Latin America rep

Ingrid Galvez speaks with UNFPA’s Latin America rep

Ingrid Galvez:

“I learned about analysis and advocacy from a local-to-global perspective, about the mechanisms of action of international groups, related outcome documents and international frameworks, and the working relationships between feminist, youth, indigenous, and SOGI [sexual orientation & gender identity]-focused organizations…our realities are different, but our problems are generated by the same causes, including inequality, machismo, homophobia, corruption, and development models that perpetuate these problems on a global level. I felt proud to represent GOJoven Guatemala and share our achievements over all these years, and above all, our vision for the future. Though I feel somewhat discouraged knowing that our voices are silenced and our participation made invisible by the problems we face, I continue to believe, more strongly than ever, in the importance of our work, and that advocacy is profoundly useful in reaching our goals.”


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Let’s Destigmatize Teen Motherhood This Mothers’ Day

Destigmatizing teen mother bannerThis month, billions of people across the US and in Latin America congratulate and celebrate mothers and motherhood. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes and have unique experiences and stories to tell. Think of your mother and all the mothers you know. Now think of a teen mother. Who do you see?

At GOJoven we see vibrant, capable women with powerful and important voices in the conversation about comprehensive sexuality education and access to contraceptive care and information. Teen mothers certainly face numerous challenges, but the current rhetoric surrounding teen motherhood blames teens for getting pregnant. As Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, states, “Many countries have taken up the cause of preventing adolescent pregnancies, often through actions aimed at changing a girl’s behavior. Implicit in such interventions are a belief that the girl is responsible for preventing pregnancy and an assumption that if she does become pregnant, she is at fault.”

Teen mothers aren’t the problem, and shaming teen mothers only stigmatizes women in need of services and support. In the US, preventing unintended pregnancy among teens means boosting comprehensive sexuality education, and increasing access to youth-friendly healthcare services, including inexpensive and effective contraceptive care. Rather than shaming and blaming, we need to protect a teen’s right to decide when and how often she becomes pregnant. The same is true in Central America.

Nekeisha is a young Belizean woman who became pregnant at an early age. In her digital story below, she shares how she really didn’t know about contraceptives before she got pregnant, and she still feels the tension between loving her children and missing her life as a relatively care-free teen. Since completing the Public Health Institute’s GOJoven Youth Leadership Fellowship Nekeisha has made it her mission to educate other young women on their rights and how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. Rather than blaming and stigmatizing teen pregnancy, Nekeisha shares her experience with adolescents, teaching them about the many ways they can avoid becoming unintentionally pregnant.

Hundreds of GOJoven fellows like Nekeisha are dedicated to improving and expanding adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) choices, programs, services, and policies through education and advocacy. This year, GOJoven fellows are mobilizing to ensure that the Ministries of Health and Education in Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala uphold their commitment to provide comprehensive sexual education in schools. Stay up to date with their efforts by subscribing to updates using the form below, and liking us on Facebook today!

Let’s destigmatize teen motherhood and address the real causes behind unintended pregnancy in the US and globally!


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Outcome Document from the 47th Session of the Commission on Population and Development

CPD47From April 7 to 11, 2014, the 47th session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) took place at the UN Headquarters in New York. Attendees focused on assessing the progress made in implementing the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Three GOJoven Alumni advocated to protect young women’s rights during the meeting:

Wendy Aguilar, of GOJoven Honduras

Ingrid Galvez, of GOJoven Guatemala

Nancy Leiva, of GOBelize

Download the CPD47 Resolution Document to see the outcomes of the 47th Session of the Commission on Population and Development. The document affirms the need to promote gender equality and recognizes:

“that health is a precondition for economic and social development and [is aware that] sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are central to the realization of social justice and to the achievement of global, regional, and national commitments for sustainable development.” (emphasis added)

Many Congratulations to these three GOJoven Alumni for their efforts and input into the CPD47 consensus!

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Goal! Soccer Captains and HIV Prevention in Belize


“Sport can play a strategic role in transferring life skills and communicating useful and encouraging messages on important issues, thus driving social change.” 

– Mr. Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace

On United Nations International Day of Sport for Peace and Development on April 6, we couldn’t have agreed with Mr. Lemke more.

According to the “UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic” of 2010, Belize has the highest HIV prevalence in Central America, with more than 4,800 people living with HIV (PLWHIV). That’s roughly 2.1% of the adult population. AIDS is the leading cause of death among people ages 15-49.

GOBelize is a youth-led NGO created by graduates of the GOJoven program. GOBelize aims to meet the rising need for sexual and reproductive health SRH education in Belize, including the prevention of HIV. Some school-based SRH programs exist, but with the rising numbers of PLWHIV, GOBelize wondered: how can we motivate out-of-school youth to attend HIV prevention trainings?

Many out-of-school youth in Belize work as laborers or field hands in the agricultural sector. GOBelize quickly realized that getting these young people to miss two days of work and wages to attend a 2-day training on HIV-prevention was close to impossible. The only thing they’ll miss work for? Soccer.

With this knowledge, GOBelize engaged local soccer team captains to motivate youth to attend the trainings. After GOBelize offered team captains a capacity-building session on the importance of education and training to address the spread of HIV, the captains decided that participation in the HIV-prevention trainings would be required in order to play in the next soccer game.

It worked! Close to 1,200 out-of-school-youth received comprehensive sexual and reproductive health training through GOBelize.

Since 2004, GOJoven fellows in Belize have reached more than 4,000 adolescents and youth with sexual and reproductive health education and training. Help them continue to do this work by visiting their Spotlight Page and making a contribution to the program today!


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GOJoven Fellows to Advocate for the Protection of Young Women’s Health and Rights at the United Nations

GOJoven Fellows Ingrid Galvez of GOJoven Guatemala, Wendy Aguilar of GOJoven Honduras and Nancy Leiva of GOBelize have been sponsored to travel to New York on April 2nd to participate in the International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) advocacy workshop, and the subsequent United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) sessions, set for April 7-11 at the UN Headquarters.

GOJoven is committed to ensuring that young women’s health and rights are central to discussions of population and development. To that end, in 2013 Ingrid, Wendy and Nancy, and a number of other fellows, participated in the development of the Montevideo Consensus in Uruguay which brought together countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to prioritize access to sexual and reproductive health services. Most recently, Ingrid and Wendy received IWHC grant funding to develop trainings and advocacy strategies to disseminate information on the Montevideo Consensus and monitor its implementation in Guatemala and Honduras.

The upcoming IWHC advocacy workshop will provide 25 individuals, mostly youth, from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa with background on CPD and why it’s important for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Participants will learn advocacy strategies and identify and agree upon a set of key SRHR priorities for the CPD. Following the training, participants will lobby country delegates to ensure that strong language protecting women’s health and rights is made central to the post-2015 development agenda and goals.

The 47th session of CPD will assess the status of implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development’s (ICPD) Program of Action (PofA), also known as the Cairo Consensus, a document developed and adopted in 1994 by 179 countries, that made reproductive health and rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality critical components of population and development programs. The 47th session of CPD is particularly important because it marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Cairo Consensus.

The GOJoven Youth Leadership training model promotes gender equality, family planning and HIV prevention by building the capacity of young leaders and organizations to create positive change in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health programs, policies and services in Mexico and Central America.

We’re thrilled to represent the voice of women and youth from Mexico and Central America at this important United Nations meeting. Best of luck to Ingrid, Wendy, Nancy and all who attend!

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Meet Gladys: Leader, friend, and GOJoven fellow

Meet Gladys bannerOn United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we would like to introduce you to Gladys. Today, Gladys can look in the mirror and feel proud of what she sees.

For years this wasn’t the case. Growing up, Gladys faced racial discrimination from her own mother because of the color of her skin. “Dark girls like you can’t study,” her mother told her. In the short video below, Gladys shares how the discrimination impacted her self-esteem and the coping mechanisms she developed to deal with the pain.

At 19 years old, Gladys was selected to participate in the GOJoven youth leadership program. The GOJoven program, she recalls, is where she had the opportunity to meet other amazing young people, and begin to accept and love herself for who she is.

GOJoven is committed to promoting the health and well-being of young people. The GOJoven youth leadership training model promotes cultural, ethnic and sexual diversity and equality by training young leaders on the values of interculturalism, team-work and collaborative leadership, We teach the importance of self-respect and self-esteem in developing oneself as an effective leader and change agent to promote social justice.

For many youth throughout Central America and Mexico, GOJoven is the first place where they feel accepted no matter their sexual orientation, race, gender, or skin color. Now, graduated GOJoven Fellows are using the training model to promote diversity, promote acceptance and improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health in their communities.

Thousands of youth like Gladys face racial discrimination within their own families and in their communities. On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we encourage you to stand against racial discrimination and intolerance.

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Errol Longsworth Represents GOJoven and GOBelize at the 2014 NCD Child Conference

ErrolErrol Longsworth, an active member of the GOJoven Belize Alumni Association (GOBelize) and graduate of the Public Health Institute’s Youth Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program (GOJoven), travels to Trinidad on March 19th to attend the 2014 NCD Child Conference to share his perspective as a youth leader from Belize. Errol currently is an outreach caseworker for the treatment unit at the National Drug Abuse Control Council, a governmental organization under the Ministry of Health in Belize, where he helps to educate students and the general public to the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Errol talks about the impact of drugs and violence on his life and his dedication to improving the health and well-being of the youth of Belize in his GOJoven digital story.

The 2014 NCD Child Conference, the second International Conference on NCDs, Children and Adolescents, will be held March 20 – 21, 2014, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. NCD Child is a global coalition, championing the rights and needs of children, adolescents and youth who are living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), or are at risk of developing NCDs or the behaviors that underlie NCDs later in life. The conference aims to further develop a vibrant platform for interaction, knowledge exchange and networking.

The 2012 NCD Child Conference –held in Oakland, CA and co-sponsored by the Public Health Institute – produced the Oakland Statement on Children, Adolescents and NCDs. The 2014 conference will build on the achievements of the 2012 NCD Child Conference to ensure the needs of children, adolescents and youth are a priority focus within the context of NCD action and the post-2015 agenda. The event will provide an opportunity to establish and strengthen regional partnerships – with a special focus on the Caribbean – as well as highlight current promising practices from around the world.

Dr. Lynn Silver, a senior advisor for chronic disease and obesity with PHI will co-moderate a panel on March 20 at 1:30 pm, titled: Human Rights, Legislation and Post 2015. Errol will represent GOBelize and GOJoven and will participate in a special youth focused pre-conference dinner with change makers from around the world to discuss the outcomes of the UNICEF Facts For Life meeting, in the context of his experience mobilizing youth in the fight against NCDs.

DSCN1781GOBelize is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) formed in 2010 by a group of GOJoven Alumni. This youth-lead organization empowers youth through educational opportunities in sexual and reproductive health, enhanced leadership skills and environmental consciousness in order to create a healthy Belize. GOBelize has created and implemented programs throughout Belize to engage out-of-school youth in HIV prevention education, advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in schools and train service providers to offer youth-friendly health services.

Best of luck to Errol and Lynn in Trinidad!

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GOJoven at the 2014 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

On International Women’s Day, GOJoven is thrilled to be on our way to New York to be part of the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)! CSW58 brings together member states, UN entities, and NGOs to discuss and address the challenges and achievements related to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls.

The eight MDGs, below, form a blueprint for how the world’s governments and largest development organizations can meet the needs of the world’s most marginalized people.

GOJoven is committed to helping achieve the MDGs with specific emphasis on achieving MDGs 3, 5, and 6. Millions of adolescents across Mexico and Central America continue to face gender-based violence, high risks of early pregnancy, and STI/HIV infection.

The GOJoven Youth Leadership training model promotes gender equality, family planning and HIV prevention by building the capacity of young leaders and organizations to create positive change in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) programs, policies and services in Mexico and Central America.

GOJoven promotes and facilitates the empowerment of young women from Mestizo, Mayan, Garifuna and Creole cultures across Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. Following participation in the GOJoven program, fellows like Ivonne from Honduras have gone on to open youth friendly spaces and clinics to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of hundreds of adolescents and youth. Other fellows like Nekeisha from Belize have committed to helping educate young women on their reproductive rights and how to protect themselves against early pregnancy.

We look forward to continuing our work to help achieve the MDGs and the opportunity to be part of the 58th Commission on the Status of Women.  If you are in New York at CSW58 please join us at our panel presentation “Leading the Way: Youth-Centered Health Strategies in Action” with Let Girls Lead and Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GYCA) that will be held on Friday, March 14th in the Boss Room on the 8th floor of the UN Church Center from 8:30am – 10:00am. We’ll be posting updates and photos from the event to our Facebook, so be sure to Like our page and follow along.


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