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  • Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights Damares Alves, Brazil, 2019.

    Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights Damares Alves, Brazil, 2019. | Photo: Twitter/ @correio

Published 29 January 2020
Opinion

Pediatricians and gender activists argue that teenage pregnancies cannot be avoided without educating people on sexual and reproductive rights.

The Brazilian Society of Pediatrics (SBP) Tuesday took a position against encouraging sexual abstinence as a method to avoid teen pregnancy, which is the policy option actively promoted by the Women, Family, and Human Rights Ministry that is currently headed by evangelical pastor Damares Alves.

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The SBP argues that the only effective option in this matter is to offer both access to health services and education to people. This last policy presupposes offering information about the body, contraceptive methods, gender equality, and respect for sexual orientation.

In an attempt to neutralize the avalanche of informed criticisms generated from multiple social organizations, the Ministry of Women argued to have "scientific studies" that would prove the validity of its policy proposal.

Appealing to the Access to Information Act, local independent outlet GauchaZH asked the Bolsonaro administration to provide the studies that prove the benefits of Dalmares' idea.

In response to this request, the far-right government delivered a text in which three studies allegedly conducted in Chile are mentioned. Health experts, however, argue that such studies have no statistical validity and have poor scientific quality.

Instead, Brazilian recalled that there are hundreds of quality studies showing that abstention is not an efficient option to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy.

Previously, Alves, who describes herself as a lawyer with a master's degree in education and constitutional rights, was under fire for lying about her academic credentials. From that scandal, she recognized that her credentials were granted by a Christian church and not by a university.

"Damares encourages teen sexual abstinence as a policy. For specialists, however, Brazil's pregnancy prevention based on late sexual initiation goes in the opposite direction to what happens in the world. The meme reads, "Sex after marriage, defended by some religions, is a proposal of patriarchalism for the submission of women," Francisca P. da Rocha Seixas, Health Secretary of the National Confederation of Education Workers (CNTE ).

For their part, human rights defenders stressed that the Bolsonaro staff seems unaware that a large majority of teenage pregnancies are non-consented pregnancies, which come from acts of sexual violence.

Seen from that perspective, promoting sexual abstention constitutes a policy proposal doomed to fail since it will not change the behavior of those who are prone to aggression.

“Many girls, who are victims of violence, cannot even 'choose to wait.' Data from the Brazilian government itself shows that 70 percent of sexual violence cases occur with minors. Prevent adolescents from having any notion about sexual and reproductive rights only makes them more vulnerable," Socialist lawmaker Samia Bomfim said.

This gender rights activist also revealed that the Ministry of Women does not plan to continue promoting sex education as one of its priorities.

"Although Alves says that her sexual abstinence campaign does not mean the end of sex education campaigns, documents prepared by her Ministry say otherwise," Bomfim tweeted.

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