Regina Benevides, Pathfinder International, Evidence to Action Project

IYWG:  What were you like as an adolescent?

I remember that as a teenager I was both thoughtful and cheerful. I enjoyed moments of solitude but also spending time with friends enjoying music and dancing. I was very active in my school and was a member of many different clubs and activities, including Brazilian dance, painting, theater, music, and foreign languages. I also loved to participate in the community outreach activities that the school did with the poorer communities nearby.

IYWG: How did you first learn about sex? What were you told? Who gave you this information? 

I first learned about sex from reading magazines, books, and talking with other girls. But, overall I received very little information about sex from adults or even from books and peers. Most of the information I received was about how exciting it was to have a boyfriend and the “things that happened” when you grow up. When I was a young adolescent, about 13 or 14, girls talked about the “romance and excitement that you could feel when you kissed a boy.” 

What else do you wish you had been told?

I wish I could have discussed sexuality and romance in a more open way, not only dry explanations and discussions about the “female reproductive system.”

IYWG: What challenges do you think young people face in accessing information about sexual and reproductive health?

Young people face challenges in both accessing information and in having real and unbiased discussions about sexuality. They need clear and simple information about their sexual and reproductive health without the weight of the conservative and moralistic society in which we live and they need the opportunity to discuss sexuality – which means discussing feelings, sensations, fears, and expectations.

IYWG: Why is comprehensive school-based sex education so important?

First we must ensure that comprehensive school-based sexuality education is truly comprehensive and participatory and not just the same old information about how to be abstinent, how the reproductive system works, and so forth. If the school-based sexuality education is really designed so that young people have the space and time to discuss the ways they experience sexuality, then it is absolutely critical to help them navigate adolescence in a healthy and positive way.

IYWG: How did you get started in the field of youth sexual and reproductive health?

Professionally I started in the field of youth sexual and reproductive health as a psychology professor and as a school psychologist in Brazil. After some years of practicing in this area, I went into clinical psychology work at the university and did some work in the private setting as well.  After this, I worked for a long time with the public health sector in Brazil, focused on young people. In 2007, I joined Pathfinder International in Mozambique as a youth technical advisor for the multisectoral, national adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health and rights program – Geração Biz. I recently left Mozambique and now work with Pathfinder as the senior technical advisor for youth on the Evidence to Action project.

IYWG: Why is the health and well-being of young people especially important to you?

It is particularly important to me because young people will have the chance to dream and build another better world.  And, they can only do it if you create the appropriate space and time for it. I really love to be with young people – to work with them, talk with them, and learn from them.

IYWG: What do you think is the biggest issue young people face today?

The biggest issue?  I would say they face multiple issues – the violent environment, the lack of work opportunities, the exposure to unrelenting consumerism, and weak engagement in collective social-rights movements. All of this can lead young people to a cynical or selfish way of living and being.

IYWG: What do you think is the most important thing that could be done to improve the health and well-being of adolescents today?

Much has being said about the importance of the participation of young people in the solutions to the problems they face. However it [youth involvement] has become a buzzword and it is rarely recognized that this is not trivial and it is not easy to do. I think that it’s extremely important to foster youth-led networks engaged in collective problems and youth forums that allow for serious discussion and enable young people to bring ideas and actions to advocate for and ensure their own sexual rights. These types of efforts form a foundation for improving the health and well-being of adolescents. Without these youth-driven initiatives, efforts are not sustainable or responsive to the real needs of young people.  In addition, of course, we should continue to increase access to quality service delivery, support youth-led outreach programs, and tailor programs to address girls and gender inequality, among other initiatives. We must focus our efforts on the most underserved, those who live in countries/regions/areas where there is nothing but poverty, hunger, and no future. All young people deserve and have the right to dream and to fight for a better world for all.