Almost one in four adolescent girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) enters a union or marriage before the age of 18, and most are between 15 and 18 years of age. No significant progress has been made on reducing the prevalence of child, early and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU) in the region over the past 25 years.
Informal unions in adolescents – that is, cohabitation in a marriage-like relationship that is not legally registered – are most common, making gender-transformative approaches that address the structural drivers of CEFMU essential.
In 2020, the CEFMU and Sexuality Working Group began to identify gender-transformative programming led by community-based civil society organisations (CSOs) based in LAC that addresses sexuality and CEFMU. Five examples from five countries were documented: Movimento de Mulheres das Ilhas de Belém (Brazil), Núcleo de Apoyo a la Mujer (NAM, Dominican Republic), Na’leb’ak (Guatemala), Bayan Association (Honduras) and Yo quiero, yo puedo (Mexico).
The aim of gender-transformative approaches is to achieve gender equality, empower girls, women and gender non-conforming young people, promote health and eliminate violence. They:
- encourage critical awareness of gender roles and norms
- promote equitable positions of girls and women in society
- challenge the distribution of resources and allocation of duties between men and women
- address the unequal power relationships between girls and women and others in the community, such as service providers or traditional leaders.5
Six elements of success for gender-transformative programming to address CEFMU and sexuality
Informed by findings from the five case studies, the report recommends six essentials for inclusion in the design and implementation of CEFMU programmes to explicitly address fear and control of girls’ sexuality :
- Increase critical awareness of gender roles and norms.
- Use girl-centred, participatory approaches to amplify adolescent girls’ voices and perspectives, for programmes to respond to their needs and priorities.
- Create public platforms for girls’ leadership and voices in the community: create opportunities for adolescent girls and young women to speak, position themselves and be recognised as spokespeople within their own communities, transforming discriminatory gender norms that devalue and silence them.
- Offer developmentally and age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education that is rights-based, holistic and adapted to context: this includes scientifically accurate information and scenario-based opportunities for reflection and discussion to build skills.
- Work with communities to address CEFMU and sexuality: ensure programmes are community-led or developed in the context of long-term relationships between CSOs and the community and are implemented by community members.
- Advocate for improved availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of health and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services and education: increase adolescent girls’ access to quality SRHR services and education through a combination of investment, gender-responsive policies, laws and community engagement.
The report’s recommendations call on practitioners, policymakers and funders working to address CEFMU and advance gender equality to ensure investments, ways of working and the design of community-based programmes apply gender-transformative principles that address the links between CEFMU and sexuality.
They should build the enabling environment (expansion of social protections, access to education and economic alternatives, comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health care) essential for girls and young women to exercise their full range of human rights.
This is a CEFMU and Sexuality Working Group project
The members of the group are: American Jewish World Service (AJWS), CARE, CREA, EMpower, EngenderHealth, Equimundo: Center for Masculinities and Social Justice (formerly Promundo-US), Fòs Feminista, Girls First Fund, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, Global Fund for Women, GreeneWorks, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), International Planned Parenthood Federation, MADRE, Nirantar Trust, Plan International and Population Council. For this report we also enjoyed the collaboration of the LAC regional Plan International and UNFPA offices. This report was researched and authored by Tamil Kendall, PhD. Dr Kendall designed and implemented the research methodology, conducted the analysis, wrote the case studies, and drafted the overview report.
- Hacer frente al tabu en Latinoamérica y el Caribe (Español) (PDF, 1.8MB)
- Enfrentando o tabu na America Latina e no Cariba (Português) (PDF, 1.8MB)
- Tackling the Taboo in Latin America and the Caribbean (English) (PDF, 1.8MB)
- Abordar el tabú: programas de transformación de la sexualidad y el género para acabar con el matrimonio y las uniones infantiles, precoces y forzadas (Español)
- Tackling the taboo: sexuality and gender-transformative programmes to end child, early and forced marriage and unions
- S'attaquer au tabou : programmes de transformation de la sexualité et du genre pour mettre fin aux mariages et unions précoces, forcés et d'enfants (Français)
- La sexualidad de las niñas y mujeres adolescentes y los matrimonios y uniones infantiles, precoces y forzadas: Un marco conceptual (Español)
- Girls’ sexuality and child, early, and forced marriages and unions: A conceptual framework (English)
- La sexualité des filles et les mariages et unions d’enfants, précoces et forcés : cadre conceptuel (Français)