Indigenous girls across Latin America are faced with discrimination based on the intersection of gender, economics, and ethnicity. Many live in isolated rural areas with limited access to water, sanitation, passable roads, schooling, and health care. Indigenous girls confront particular barriers that put them at risk of not pursuing secondary education, marrying early, and having children at a young age. Providing accessible educational opportunities and support to develop their life skills may delay and even prevent these risks.

The Population Council, in collaboration with local and international partners, launched Abriendo Oportunidades in Guatemala in 2004. The program increases Indigenous girls’ social support networks, connects them with role models and mentors, builds a base of critical life and leadership skills, and provides hands-on professional training and experience.

Abriendo Oportunidades makes critical investments in girls aged 8–17 to help them successfully navigate adolescent transitions. The program engages community leaders and trains girls to run community girls’ clubs, safe spaces where they learn practical skills and assume leadership roles.

The program began in a handful of rural communities in Guatemala and has since expanded nationwide to over 10 departments, as well as to Belize (where the program is called Toledo Adolescent Girls Program) and Mexico (where the program is called Abriendo Futuros). The Council trains professionals from local governments and organizations in program planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation to ensure high-quality programs for vulnerable adolescent girls. The program has expanded to include tutoring and is now being adapted for girls in urban areas and for boys.

The program works with partners in the Central American Learning Circle to promote and adapt the Abriendo Oportunidades model for other vulnerable girl populations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and with Batonga Foundation in Benin. Abriendo Oportunidades guides NGOs and government institutions with empowerment programming for adolescent girls, sharing lessons learned.

The program reaches thousands of girls in hundreds of communities and builds a network of young indigenous mentors. Countless others have benefited from the effects of the program in their communities.

A program evaluation showed that:

  • 100% of Abriendo girl leaders had completed the sixth grade, compared with 82% nationally
  • 97% of girl leaders remained childless during the program cycle, compared with the national average of 78% for girls their age
  • 94% of girl leaders reported experiencing greater autonomy and feeling more comfortable expressing their opinions
  • 88% of girl leaders opened a bank account
  • 44% had obtained paid employment by the end of the program

A quantitative household-level evaluation conducted in 36 Abriendo Oportunidades communities in 2011 documented that:

  • 52% of Abriendo girl leaders want to complete university and 32% want to complete vocational training
  • 97% of girl leaders remained unmarried during the program cycle
  • 94% of girl leaders wish to delay childbearing until after age 20
  • Abriendo girls interviewed at endline scored an average of 7.7 on an 8-point scale to quantify their sense of self-efficacy, indicating that post-program rural, indigenous girls may well possess the self-confidence necessary to follow their articulated life plans

Girl participants reported that the Abriendo Oportunidades program has also helped to bring about positive social change in the local households and communities, including:

  • Increased female autonomy reflected in parental permission for girls to attend Abriendo events
  • Increased freedom to meet with friends
  • Improved status in the home and participation in school and community activities