Culturally Sensitive Approaches

Guatemala: Finding Common Ground—and Building on It

The passage of a groundbreaking new law in Guatemala that promotes better health for women and their families was the product of a year and a half of negotiations and consensus-building among a wide range of stakeholders, facilitated by UNFPA.

Although Guatemala has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in Latin America—270 deaths per 100,000 live births—the country lacked broad political support for reproductive health programmes. That all changed in 2001, when the Social Development Law was enacted, promoting specific policies in the areas of population, reproductive health, family planning and sexual education.

Ten years earlier, Congress had passed a similar law, but it was vetoed by the Guatemalan President following intense lobbying from groups opposing the law. This time around, however, the Government and a number of stakeholders developed an elaborate advocacy strategy well in advance for ratification of the law. The strategy involved not only traditional allies, but also groups such as the Catholic and Evangelical churches and business leaders. Potential allies within these groups were identified and advocacy efforts carefully steered in their direction. Throughout the process, UNFPA maintained a facilitating role, supporting government institutions and civil society organizations, which assumed authorship and accountability for the new law.

Identifying points of common interest with the Catholic Church helped neutralize longstanding areas of disagreement and was an important starting point for negotiations. For instance, there was broad consensus on the need to reduce maternal and infant mortality, which became the centrepiece of the new law.

Within the Government and civil society, strategic partnerships were forged with allies who helped reduce the influence of groups opposed to the law. Media and communication groups, for instance, ran articles on population and reproductive health in newspapers and magazines and debates on these issues were aired on television and radio.

Though the entire process was laborious, it proved successful in the end. In the words of the UNFPA representative in Guatemala: “Patience, perseverance and the willingness to start a dialogue are ‘tools' for behaviour change in sensitive environments. It took us nearly 15 months of hard work and negotiation to dispel suspicions, build consensus, and create the capacity necessary to prepare the ground for enactment of the law.”