Community Engagement & Service

Reproductive Health and Contraceptive Access in Puerto Rico: Overcoming the Legacy of Sterilization

Alternative Break Puerto Rico 2013

The Trip
This trip will focus on reproductive health and contraceptive access in Puerto Rico. Women in Puerto Rico have historically lacked access to contraception; this lack is a direct result of “La Operacion”. La Operacion, translated as “The Operation”, refers to a period of time in which Puerto Rican women experienced institutionally enforced sterilization at the hands of the American government.

Puerto Rican women have experienced one the highest rates of sterilization in the world. Between 1930 and 1970, one in three Puerto Rican women underwent a medical procedure that made them infertile; the surgery became infamously known as “La Operacion”, in English, “The Operation”. During the Great Depression Era, the United States government used economic subsidies to encourage the voluntary sterilization of Puerto Rican women, some of these subsidies included the use of job favoritism and the barring of non-sterile women from employment. As a result, Puerto Rican women from lower income households were more likely to undergo “La Operacion.” By using these methods, the American government ultimately hoped to control the population and the economy of Puerto Rico. In many cases, women were not given the autonomy to consent to the sterilization; women were led to believe that the procedure was reversible. Often times, men were given the sole authority of deciding whether or not their wife should receive the sterilization.

During this Alternative Break trip, we will work with “Iniciativa Comunitaria (IC)”, the Community Initiative. IC is a non-profit organization in Puerto Rico that promotes social justice on a plethora of fronts by conducting a variety of community programming. As our service site, we have chosen to work primarily with the “Contigo Mujer” program. Contigo Mujer, which translates to “with you, woman”, seeks to provide Puerto Rican women with access to contraception by distributing safe sex kits throughout Ponce and holding informational workshops that teach women about different forms of contraception and how to use them. By holding sessions and distributing kits, Community Initiative hopes to empower women to make their own informed decisions when it comes to their reproductive health.

Student Trip Leaders

Cristina Khan is a senior in the School of Public Affairs where she is majoring in Political Science with a concentration in race and gender. She previously studied abroad in Havana, Cuba and has participated in the Cherokee Nation AU Methodist faith-based service trip.

Salina Rivera is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She has been an active member of AU’s Queers and Allies. She also previously participated in the Cherokee trip with the AU Methodists. As a first-generation Puerto Rican, she feels a strong connection to the island.

Sample Itinerary (subject to change)

Day 1
-Arrival in Ponce
-  Settle into hotel
-  Dinner with everyone
-  Walking tour of the city of Ponce

Day 2
-Orientation with Iniciativa Comunitaria
* During this time, students will learn the history of IC, why they were chosen as our service site, and what they will be doing during their time with them. The orientation will also provide a context to understanding the issues students will have a familiarity with after completing the assigned readings.
-Depart for lunch
-Cultural activity
-Museo de la Masacre de Ponce
-Dinner as a group, including a group reflection on what was learned at IC, what our expectations are and what we hope to learn.

Day 3
-Head to Iniciativa Comunitaria for service
-  Finish service with Iniciativa Comunitaria
-Reflection on service

Day 4
-Travel to San Juan
-  Visit Asociacion Puertorriquena Por Bienestar De La Familia
-Lunch in Viejo San Juan
-Visit World Heritage Site- La Fortaleza, abundance of museums and historic sites
-Dinner in San Juan

Day 5
-Travel to Rio Pierdas
-Meet with sociology professor from the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Pierdas
- Travel to Rio Pierdras
-Centro Sor Isolina Ferre- Provides assistance to teenagers who are either pregnant or with children.

Day 6
-Beach Day
-Lunch At Beach
-Back to Hotel
-Ronda Nocturna

*Ronda Nocturna is a program run by Iniciativa Comunitaria in which volunteers distribute food, safe sex kits, and safe drug kits to residents.

Day 7
-Pack up to leave, return to Washington, DC


Dates: March 9-17, 2013
Student Trip Leaders: Cristina Khan and Salina Rivera
Staff Advisor: Caroline DeLeon, Center for Diversity & Inclusion
Cost: $1300
Cost includes airfare, food, accommodation, transportation, travel insurance, and all planned activities.