Via The Guardian: El Salvador's Zika crisis compounded by failings of state, violence and machismo. Excerpt:
The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Latin America and a total ban on abortion. In their initial response to the Zika outbreak, Salvadorian health authorities simply advised women to delay getting pregnant for two years.
But women’s rights activists said that the controversial advice failed to reflect the country’s entrenched culture of sexism which leaves many women – especially poor women – with little control over their bodies.
Mariela Hernández, a health adviser for pregnant teenagers and adolescent mothers said that most of the girls she works with have much older boyfriends; including one pregnant 15-year-old whose partner is 60.
“She is with this man out of necessity, because she needed to get out of her family home,” said Hernández. “This is a culture of machismo: many girls are dominated by their partners; contraception and pregnancy isn’t always their choice,” said Hernandez.
Hernández, 27 – who contracted Zika in September but was also told it was an allergy – is a devout Catholic and opposes abortion in any circumstance. But she is in favour of family planning and supports the government’s advice to delay pregnancy to avoid complications from Zika. For her, sex education is key. “There is none in schools, [but] with Zika it is urgent that this happens now.”
That lack of education has grave consequences: one in three pregnancies in El Salvador is to an adolescent. But legislation requiring schools to provide sex and diversity education has been stuck in congress for over two years. Technically, girls under 18 require adult consent to obtain contraceptives from health services.
Most contraceptives – the oral pill, condoms and injections – are available free at health clinics, but supplies can run short. In El Paisnal, a spike in pregnancies last year was likely linked to a shortage of contraceptive injections in 2014, according to Dr Nidia Mejía, director of El Paisnal’s health clinic.
The health ministry recently announced it was buying in more contraceptives. But the Guardian spoke to several doctors – in the public and private sector – who said there had been no increase in women seeking contraception or family planning advice since the government recommended delaying pregnancy.