How to enhance Access to Information and citizen participation, and, at the same time, accomplish sexual and reproductive rights? Lo Público es Nuestro
“Now that I have information I feel empowered, I see information not as a curiosity but as a right”.
Ana Laura Rodríguez Cortés, researcher from Morelos, Mexico.
Information-based advocacy is one of the most effective tools to enhance human rights and make governments accountable. At the Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir in Mexico, we are aware of such premises and work at a community level in 13 states to increase social accountability in health and reproductive services at primary health care units. This is the story of Lo Público es Nuestro (What is Public is Ours).
Public health services in Mexico are usually insufficient, discriminatory, authoritarian and inaccessible to some segments of the population. Scarce governmental attention to adolescent and indigenous rights have had repercussions in health problems. For example, the highest rate of pregnancies in adolescents of the OECD countries is that of Mexico. Moreover, adolescents have little access to contraceptives, scientific information and amicable services. For indigenous women, we can see that sexual and reproductive rights are not translated into medical services adapted to their cultural practices or even language, excluding them from proper care. Therefore, sexual and reproductive rights for adolescents, indigenous and Afro-Mexican women are not attainable because public policies and decision-making processes in the health sector are not inclusive enough, not taking into account the beneficiaries’ needs.
The ILSB firmly believes that citizens should be involved in the public space, and has thus promoted the creation of two networks, REDefine and PROMUI. The first one is integrated by young people and the latter is formed by indigenous women. The Institute actively participates in the network, training its members to be leaders, and partners with them in certain agendas, such as the sexual and reproductive rights agenda.
Lo Público es Nuestro is a project coordinated by ILSB as an action-research process that is designed to build capacities for 48 researchers that are part of the REDefine and PROMUI networks, so that they can audit health services and advocate for their own needs. In order to do so, investigators are trained in transparency and accountability mechanisms, particularly access to information. After that, they receive training in qualitative research instruments, using interviews, observation and simulated user experiences to gather information on the specific health units. The purpose of the combination of instruments and perspectives is to gather data on how public services are budgeted and the availability of such services. It also aims to test such information in the health clinic, as well as monitor the quality of the service provided.
After implementing the above-mentioned instruments and perspectives, researchers present their results to local authorities to improve health services in their communities. As a result, youth and indigenous groups have been incorporated to the local governmental institutions for the Prevention of Pregnancy in Adolescents. Additionally, some recommendations have been acknowledged and accounted for, such as the integration of an intercultural perspective on health services, and the recognition of the need to include adolescents in decision-making processes.
In terms of social accountability, Lo Público es Nuestro has achieved its planned results, transferring capacities to 48 researchers. This means that 48 young or indigenous women have learned to access information and have built research skills to make governments accountable for poor health services.
In the exact words of Guillermina Edith Leyva, an indigenous woman from Oaxaca, who sums up her experience:
Five years ago, I went to my local health clinic to request a subdermal implant as a contraceptive method. They questioned me because I was single and young, and denied my request arguing that there was a long waiting list. If I have had the information that I now have, I could have defended my right to access contraceptive methods.
In terms of lessons learned, we are aware of the difficulties when working with local networks. All of our researchers need time to learn how to access information and go to the field. This has led us, at the ILSB, to dedicate part of our time to accompany their processes. The experience with the access to information requests is particularly intensive in following up the upcoming questions from researchers. The Access to Information system in Mexico is indeed complicated – its computer based, with specialized knowledge, in Spanish and inaccessible to remote communities. Resources and time are invested in transferring capacities, as well as in guiding the research process.
Another challenge we have faced is the one concerning security: digital and physical. During the first phase of our process we had important digital security outbreaks, which led us to reconsider the servers, systems and messaging services we had been using. On the other hand, physical security conditions in Mexico are worsening each day, which led us to a special security protocol.
At the ILSB, we believe that the best way to improve health services (and other social services) is through improving governance processes, an active participation of beneficiaries and a dialogue between citizens and those responsible for designing and implementing public policies and services. In spite of difficulties and challenges in the implementation process of the project, we can assure that community-based research and leadership helps policy makers listen to its citizens through social accountability mechanisms.
 The Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir (ILSB) is a feminist CSO which, for the past 18 years, has contributed to the creation of a more democratic and fair society through knowledge, innovation and the training of women leaders through a gender, rights and interculturality perspective; www.ilsb.org.mx.
 Founded in 2011, REDefine is the youth leader’s network of the ILSB. Its purpose is to promote and defend sexual and reproductive rights in 13 states in Mexico. For more information: http://ilsb.org.mx/redefine/.
 PROMUI, the Indigenous Women Program, works to reduce the inequality experienced by indigenous women through processes that strengthen and connect indigenous women leaders and consolidate their position as agents of change. For more information, see: http://ilsb.org.mx/promui/.