Guatemalan Leader and Recipient of Americans for UNFPA Award to Speak at SLC

Dr. Marta Julia RuizDr. Marta Julia Ruiz, an indigenous Guatemalan physician who has generated a power shift in indigenous Guatemalan communities by facilitating the pursuit of education, economic opportunity, and vital health information for girls, will speak at Sarah Lawrence College on Wednesday, October 6 at 12:45 p.m. in the Donnelly Lecture Hall, Heimbold Visual Arts Center.

A 2010 recipient of an Americans for UNFPA Award for the Health and Dignity of Women, to be awarded in New York City on October 7, Dr. Ruiz is the founder of a program, Abriendo Oportunidades, or Opening Doors, which cultivates new generations of informed, well connected women leaders, through a network of girl-led support systems, focusing in rural areas where girls are unlikely to attend school past age 12. In Guatemala, and many countries around the world, access to education is a privilege, not a right. Many girls are denied education, as household and family responsibilities take precedence.

In 2007, UNFPA support made it possible for Dr. Ruiz to expand Abriendo Oportunidades, which now has a presence in 34 communities, and targets girls ages 8 to 18. Older girls run the programs, earn paid internships, and ultimately assume responsibility for the Safe Spaces where girls gather. Younger girls access mentorship and positive reinforcement for delaying marriage and children until they have completed their education. The program’s culminating economic component is key to ensuring support from girls’ families.

Dr. Ruiz once ran the Population Council in Guatemala, where she still works as a consultant. She has achieved remarkable heights as an indigenous woman and medical doctor specializing in public health. She turned her focus to adolescent girls after seeing adult patients struggle with limited education and resources, and almost no information about their reproductive health.

Americans for UNFPA builds moral, political, and financial support within the United States for the work of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which provides women’s health care and promotes the rights of women in 150 countries. It is the largest multilateral source of such assistance.