It’s Freedom to Choose How to Live: Supporting Voluntary Family Planning and Conservation in Colombia

It’s Freedom to Choose How to Live: Supporting Voluntary Family Planning and Conservation in Colombia

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Women for Conservation has forged ahead during a time of unprecedented challenges associated with COVID-19 to provide essential reproductive health care and family planning education to women in rural Colombia. Increased domestic violence and economic uncertainty due to the pandemic have made prioritizing women’s health and access to contraception more important than ever. This is why Women for Conservation has continued to work with our partner organization, Profamilia, to maintain a presence in rural communities to advance women’s empowerment and reproductive rights through access to contraception and education to prevent losing ground on these important initiatives. 

Family planning has been a central pillar of Women for Conservation’s platform since our founding because we recognize the necessity of a holistic and multi-faceted approach to protecting endangered species and halting habitat destruction. United Nations projections predict global population growth of two billion people by 2050, an increase that will put an extraordinary strain on the world’s natural resources and threaten the conservation of some of the world’s most biodiverse and ecologically valuable areas. The world’s tropical rainforests function as important carbon sinks that are key to mitigating climate change, but their ability to sequester carbon is declining. In Colombia, deforestation, destructive agricultural practices, and unsustainable development jeopardize unique rainforest ecosystems and the wealth of flora and fauna that depend upon them. By the 2060s, a combination of climate warming and destructive practices could transform these ecosystems into carbon sources, rather than sinks, accelerating the devastating impacts of climate change on rural communities and destabilizing ecological systems. Through educational workshops, we help communities understand the link between an increasing population and strain on local natural resources, as well as the importance of their actions in relation to rainforest conservation. By providing resources to give families greater control over pregnancies, we give them the tools to put that education into practice. 

Women waiting for their contraception and mammograms, Nov. 2020.

Though a global pandemic has presented new challenges, Women for Conservation Project Manager, Isabella Cortes Lara, has continued to connect with women in rural communities to organize events and educational workshops. In October, twenty women reached out to our organization seeking family planning support and access to contraceptives. By early November, we had organized educational workshops, access to birth control, and scheduled vital follow-up care to be provided in December. We also provided mammograms, the first breast cancer screening some of the women had ever received, and training on how to conduct a self-breast exam.

This kind of life-saving early intervention is incredibly important in Colombia where, according to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer in the country. Participants in the workshop also engaged in an hour-long conversation about domestic violence. With domestic violence hotlines in Colombia receiving 153% more calls during the pandemic, creating safe spaces for women to discuss their experiences is incredibly important. By having these conversations, we build relationships and trust within communities, giving us the ability to improve the wellbeing of women and their families and affirm our place as a community resource.

Catizza Montenegro with Profamilia leads a family planning discussion before checkups, Dec. 2020.

Though a global pandemic has presented new challenges, Women for Conservation Project Manager, Isabella Cortes Lara, has continued to connect with women in rural communities to organize events and educational workshops. In October, twenty women reached out to our organization seeking family planning support and access to contraceptives. By early November, we had organized educational workshops, access to birth control, and scheduled vital follow-up care to be provided in December. We also provided mammograms, the first breast cancer screening some of the women had ever received, and training on how to conduct a self-breast exam. This kind of life-saving early intervention is incredibly important in Colombia where, according to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer in the country. Participants in the workshop also engaged in an hour-long conversation about domestic violence. With domestic violence hotlines in Colombia receiving 153% more calls during the pandemic, creating safe spaces for women to discuss their experiences is incredibly important. By having these conversations, we build relationships and trust within communities, giving us the ability to improve the wellbeing of women and their families and affirm our place as a community resource.

Our Executive Director, Sara Ines Lara, recently reflected on the progress of Women for Conservation in providing access to family planning and education over the past fifteen years, noting the transformation she has seen over that time. Initially, said Lara, the organization was focused entirely on educating rural communities about why family planning is important. Now, she says, women feel empowered to reach out to us for help accessing contraception and see us as a trusted resource. Partnering with Profamilia in 2019 allowed Women for Conservation to take our family planning work to the next level, helping us bridge the gap between women in rural communities who want access to birth control and clinicians who can provide it. This year, we have helped provide over 50 women with access to family planning care and reproductive health screenings, filling a critical gap in women’s healthcare in rural regions. Though this is an incredible accomplishment, family planning is just one of the ways we work to empower women.

 

Project Manager Isabella Cortez Lara (left) with Kelly Julio, woman community leader collaborating with us.

Providing career training in conservation and environmental stewardship is another key way we empower and educate women, providing opportunities for economic stability through sustainable jobs. When women and their families are given the tools to take control of pregnancies, women are more able to plan their futures and pursue careers. “When we have a conversation with women who have one kid or haven’t had any kids yet, we want to empower them with this knowledge that’s really important so she can clearly decide ahead of time, based on the path she wants to take, how many children she wants to have,” said Catizza Montenegro, a psychologist with Profamilia Santa Marta. Our Project Manager Isabella continues: “Family planning is freedom for me. It’s freedom to choose how to live. How to study. To work as I wish. Liberty and freedom to choose for me is power.”

When families lack the education and resources necessary to understand and control the growth of their families, increasing population inevitably forces them to overuse their surrounding natural resources, threatening the survival of irreplaceable ecosystems and jeopardizing the natural heritage for future generations. Education about reproductive rights and healthcare is an important tool that gives people the ability to say “I can change my family’s history, the one we’ve had for so long. I can be completely different with this information that I’m given,” adds Montenegro. When we provide communities with the right resources, we enable women and their families to live in harmony with their environment, to sustainably use natural resources, and improve the wellbeing of families and individuals. 

We are very happy to be able to reach remote places and share awareness to women about sexual and reproductive rights, as well as the different alternatives they have to plan the number of children they want to have,” said Diana Monterroza, Director of Profamilia Santa Marta. “Thanks to Women for Conservation this has been possible. Thank you for taking us into account for this important activity and we hope to continue working together for more women in need.”

Women for Conservation is optimistic about our continued work with Profamilia, and the future of family planning and conservation of ecosystems and wildlife in Colombia, about the future of family planning and conservation of ecosystems and wildlife in Colombia, and their continuing work with Profamilia. By addressing these issues holistically at the community level, we maximize our ability to make a difference in the lives of women, inviting them to become part of the conversation and solution. While the events of 2020 could easily have been a major setback, our continued presence within remote communities enabled us to continue making progress. With the help of generous supporters, valuable partnerships, and a dedication to improving the lives of women, we will continue to protect wildlife and conserve Colombian rainforests for the enjoyment of future generations. 

 Thank you to our supporters and Profamilia!

 
Article by Lizzie Rose, Communications and Outreach Intern

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