Karen Bolaños – Si Mujer Young Leader

I’m 17 and I got involved with Si Mujer when I was just 14, thanks to my teacher at school.

We were studying ethics and the teacher invited us to get involved with Si Mujer. I found it surprising that nobody raised their hand. He mentioned that they would provide us with training workshops on sexual and reproductive rights and gender issues and and there was silence in the room.

I felt a bit sorry for the teacher and I said to my friends, “come on, let’s raise our hands, something good could come out of this”; so that’s when it all started. 

Sex education classes in Colombia don’t give enough information, and sometimes it’s difficult for young people to talk about these issues.

So, we started to create spaces in my school to talk about this with more openness and to be able to inform ourselves better. Eventually, people began to approach me when they had concerns or wanted to know where to go to receive health services.

During the pandemic, social networks have been really important for keeping communication going. We developed an activity where we tried to contact 10 or 15 people each through WhatsApp and started to address different topics through text messages.

I personally have always been frightened by the issue of teenage pregnancy, because it is so common in Colombia.

An unplanned pregnancy is something that I felt could totally change my life if it happened – knowing that many women have to give up their education and completely change their life plans. It is a reality that has been deeply rooted in my family and although we have been able to move forward and get to where we are now, I know that it has been difficult.

Karen with her mum in Cali

On one occasion I helped another girl to go and take a pregnancy test and to see if she was positive for a sexually transmitted infection. She was really scared, because at home they had told her that if either of the tests were positive she was going to face serious consequences, so I supported her. She took the tests, fortunately both were negative and so I insisted that she look into counselling support and she started the process. 

Right now the situation in Colombia is really complicated. Colombia is a wonderful country, with amazing young people who can change our future. In a way Si Mujerfeels like a family. They have helped me with my university selection process and I feel that they have improved my capacity to be a young person who can lead others.

That has been the most gratifying thing for me – that this becomes a chain, which does not just stay with us young people, but our parents and other family members end up being influenced and changing too.