Non governmental public action in adolescent fertility : the cases of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay
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This dissertation examines the role of nongovernmental public action (NGPA) in the controversial field of adolescent fertility in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Santiago (Chile) and Montevideo (Uruguay). Embracing a comparative perspective the study investigates the modes in which national policy and institutional environments shape the role of civil society organizations and their margins of autonomy vis a vis other powerful actors such as the State and the Catholic church. Forty one organizations whose mission includes the prevention of teenage pregnancy or the support of teenage parents were studied using a multi-method approach to explore cross national similarities and differences. An exhaustive account of national and subnational policies and programs in this field demonstrates the existence of isomorphic trends in the treatment and framing of adolescent reproductive behavior as a critical issue of public policy in each country. Similarly in all three countries women’s rights organizations play a critical role in the legal recognition and enforcement of adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights while pro-poor organizations are fundamental actors in addressing the specific needs of teenage mothers and their children. However, important cross national differences were found regarding the modes in which NGPA engages with governmental agencies. As distinctive national marks, the study reveals a strong presence of NGOs in the role of rights watchdogs and monitors in Argentina, a strong alliance between central government structures and technical NGOs to confront resistances to reforms in Chile, and the utilization of NGOs as service providers in detriment of their participation in phases of policy design in Uruguay. Although the language of rights has colonized most of the surveyed organizations, adult-centric practices and discourses are still defining the interaction with adolescents. Adolescent’s demands are rarely voiced and only a few organizations favor their engagement in contentious politics and community activism. Nongovernmental autonomy is severely curtailed as a result of the influence of religion, and the lack of state modernization or financial opportunities, in the three countries. On theoretical grounds, the study highlights the importance of public policy as the arena where the potential of civil society can be maximized.