Empowering young people in Ecuador to understand their bodies and defend their rights

ESMERALDAS, Ecuador – “RuranKapak for me means freedom, knowledge, breaking myths,” said 20-year-old youth leader Janny Caicedo Corozo. “It’s about helping young people who don't know their rights and need to know them.”

Mr. Caicedo is from Limones, an island in the Pacific Ocean that is part of the coastal and border province of Esmeraldas – a region characterized by beautiful beaches and the country’s highest concentration of Afrodescendent people. He described his home as “small, but full of love”, though it is not without its challenges. 

As in many societies with large Afrodescendent communities, the effects of racism and discrimination have led to gaping social, economic and health inequities. Esmeraldas is one of Ecuador’s poorest regions, and women and girls there face elevated risks of gender-based violence and adolescent pregnancy. 

Mr.Caicedo wanted to change how sexuality was being discussed in his community – to alleviate fears and debunk myths. In 2018, he participated in a training session for RuranKapak, a comprehensive sexuality education programme launched in Ecuador in 2012 with the support of UNFPA, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency. 

Peer-to-peer programming

RuranKapak – which translates as “I will do” or “to do it” in the Amazonian Kichwa language – is a project that gathers young people in groups for peer-to-peer, interactive information sessions supported by educators, health personnel and rights promoters on topics such as self-care and nutrition, gender-based violence, menstrual health, contraception and sexuality.

After participating in the RuranKapak session as a student, in 2018 Mr. Caicedo was invited to a UNFPA-supported training on its methodology. He has been a facilitator for the project ever since, leading many peer-to-peer information sessions over the last five years.

“The methodology has had a wonderful result,” he said. “Teenage pregnancy has decreased in my community and girls have more freedom to talk; they approach health centres to access contraceptive methods and more with their families.”

Over the last decade, nearly 1,200 adolescent and youth facilitators have been trained in RuranKapak and more than 38,000 participants have been reached with information through the sessions.

Knowing their rights

In Ecuador, as in many countries parts of the world, young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights can be controversial to discuss, surrounded as the topic is by misinformation and stigma. Silence on the subject, however, can put young people at risk of rights violations like gender-based violence and unintended pregnancies – both of which are a significant challenge in Ecuador. (...)  More