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Groups Across US Launch 'Yo Soy' Campaign to Teach Latina Youth About Sexual & Reproduction Health Issues

First Posted: Dec 14, 2014 04:08 PM EST
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"Yo Soy" is not only a declarative statement, but it's also a brave campaign assembled by some of the nation's leading Latino and health organizations, launched to combat the stigma and silence that surrounds sexual and reproductive health issues.

Advocates for Youth, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, the Hispanic Federation, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and Voto Latino joined forces to launch "Yo Soy," a campaign with a willingness to address sex education, birth control, young parenting and abortion in the Latino community. The endeavor also looks to spark a national dialogue within the Latino community on critical reproductive health and sexual rights issues.

The joint campaign looks to leverage the allies, constituents, experts and the politically savvy national organizations involved that work toward breaking myths, raising visibility and sparking conversation. These groups will take to social media, town hall meetings, activist training sessions and cafecitos to arm Latinos with the resources needed to talk about issues that impact their family, friends and their communities.

"We have the power to break through the silence and shame about our bodies, our sexuality and our health. When we do, we help generations of Latinos – not only ourselves, but our hermanas, hijas, nieces; our fathers, tios and abuelos," said Laura Jimenez, executive director of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, in a press release.

Young Latinas face powerful barriers when seeking economic security and balanced health, and those barriers shackle them to poverty or shove them further into it. The silence and stigma surrounding birth control, sexuality and young pregnancy provokes negative outcomes. Grounded in shame and founded by a lack of education, changing the conversation is essential, but it will be hard work.

Myths that assume hypersexual activity among Latinos are accompanied by myths of high-risk sexual behaviors, a complete rejection of contraceptive use, stigmatization of abortion and a desire for early parenthood despite poverty-produced limitations.

"A common misbelief is that Latinas, due to their religious beliefs, don't use contraception. In reality, 97 percent of Latinas who have been sexually active at some point in their lives have used some form of contraception," said Jessica Reeves, VP of Partnerships at Voto Latino, to Latin Post. "Another common misbelief is that when a young Latina becomes pregnant, she is shunned by her family and close friends. However, research shows that more than 77 percent of Latinos and Latinas believe that community and family support is crucial for the teen and the baby."

Socioeconomics, education and immigration status has a firm bearing on a woman's freedom to make reproductive health decisions that are most beneficial to her life. Lack of access and education is why the contraction of STDs and HIV/AIDS has affected the community. It's also why early parenthood is a continued reality. In 2012, Latina youth were responsible for two-thirds of teen births in Metro Denver.

"Through sexual health education Latinas/os can become aware of the obstacles that plague their community in order for them to begin to discuss what they can do to overcome those barriers. Research shows that 1-in-3 Latinas are uninsured and lack of health insurance drives contraceptive costs up," Reeves said. "In fact, because of the high costs associated with not having health coverage, 50 percent of women aged 18-34, including Latinas, said they've been discouraged from using prescription contraceptives. When Latinas are aware of their sexual and reproductive health options, it increases their awareness about accessibility and helps them take ownership, like getting affordable insurance coverage or looking for ways to get it."

In addition to offering resources, information, conversation starters and statistics to drive visibility and discussion, Yo Soy asks individuals to pledge their support at iamyosoy.org. The pledge reads, "Health, sex, and family may be hard to talk about sometimes. But if we don't speak up and speak out, we miss the chance to be a stronger and healthier community. Together, we can break the silence. We are all stronger when we support each other and respect that personal decisions are ours to make. I pledge to talk about sexual education, birth control, abortion and young parents."

Cristina Aguilar, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, insists that Latino families must speak out out against attempts to restrict sexuality education or reproductive health options in the Latino community. Aguilar believes ownership helps empower Latinos to develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of pervasive practices that limit opportunity and access to strong health outcomes, financial stability and educational advancement as well as high-quality, affordable and culturally competent health care services. Empowerment leads to autonomy, action, advocacy and protection. 

"COLOR has a long history of interacting with our community beyond social media channels or our constituency's ability to access online content. We regularly engage directly with our core target audience, young Latinas and their families," Aguilar said to Latin Post. "By way of small-group forums, like cafecitos that cater to both parents and families, and youth-centered education programming delivered in middle schools and high schools or at our site, COLOR is able to inform and mobilize Latina youth and Latino parents around campaigns like 'Yo Soy.'"

In a joint statement, Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, vice president for Strategic Partnerships, Advocates for Youth, stated, "Young people in our communities have the right to lead healthy lives. Our responsibility is to communicate openly and honestly with our young people to ensure they have the skills and information they need to make healthy decisions."

Jose Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation added, "A healthy community is a strong community, and we are all stronger when we break through shame and stigma. Let's start talking."

The "Yo Soy" pledge provides a platform for Latino youth and their families to capitalize on the opportunity to have direct dialogue and raise issues that directly impact their lives with their loved ones and circles of support. The campaign is motivated to strengthen the vulnerable community by equipping them with the education needed to make informed decisions about their reproductive health, which could impact economic standing and break cycles of poverty.

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