Global Partners, March 2024

Written by Lee S. Polansky, Senior Director of Executive Initiatives and Special Projects | Published: March 11, 2024

Interview with Isabella Cortes Lara, CEO of Women for Conservation

Can you tell our readers the story behind your organization’s founding?

Women for Conservation (W4C) was created by my mother, Sara Inés Lara, and me, with the vision of empowering women to become conservation leaders in their own communities. As Colombian wildlife conservationists who, because we are women, had to overcome incredible hardships to succeed in the conservation field, we are especially passionate about providing rural women with resources to join the wildlife conservation movement, by facilitating environmental education workshops in communities buffering nature reserves for endangered and endemic wildlife. During these workshops, many women expressed that they could not be meaningfully involved in grassroots conservation when they lacked access to basic reproductive health care, couldn’t plan their pregnancies, and couldn’t afford to support their growing families. They asked us for help accessing family planning so they could overcome these barriers to pursuing their educational, career, and conservation dreams.

What is the link between family planning and conservation?

Women’s empowerment is a top conservation solution, because when women are educated, healthy, and empowered, the environment also benefits. We have seen that providing women with reproductive autonomy allows them to finish school, pursue careers, and plan their pregnancies — all of which reduces reliance on local natural resources. Research shows that giving women reproductive freedom is a top solution for reducing emissions and mitigating climate change over the coming decades. Women in the Global South face compounding oppressions which makes them disproportionately vulnerable to climate disasters. Accessible family planning is proven to boost the ability of marginalized populations to adapt to climate change.

What does your family planning work look like in the field?

Our family planning clinics most often involve transporting our partner Profamilia nurses to rural communities to facilitate pop-up clinics. It begins with our W4C community groups requesting educational family planning workshops so women and girls can learn about their contraceptive options and decide the method that is best for them. The vast majority of girls and women we work with choose to receive hormone implants in their arms. Once we have a few dozen girls requesting contraceptive implants, we arrange logistics and transportation to get nurses from urban centers to these remote locations. W4C transports these nurses hours and sometimes days by car, speed boat, or bush plane to arrive to these extremely remote communities. Due to lack of health care facilities, a local woman will volunteer her house to host a two-day pop-up clinic, where nurses insert up to 50 implants a day. The nurses also provide cancer screenings and teach women and girls to perform breast exams on themselves. W4C facilitates visits from nurses in the following months to monitor healing of the implant incision and to answer any additional questions.

Behind the scenes of a family planning brigade with Women for Conservation and local partner Profamilia.
Women for Conservation patients in Puerto Pinzón show off their new contraceptive implants.

Photos used with permission from Women for Conservation

What are a few of the group’s recent successes?

With support from Population Connection and other generous donors, W4C was able to provide 354 women and girls with family planning in 2023. In 2022, W4C began receiving requests from men who wanted vasectomies, to lift the burden of family planning from women’s shoulders.

A success that we are incredibly proud of is destigmatizing family planning — in the past, it was seen as a taboo topic in the communities where we work. Through education and years of building trust in these communities, women and girls are now proud to share their family planning stories and promote the importance of reproductive health care among their family and friends. W4C’s growing popularity has resulted in long family planning waiting lists in the communities where we work.

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