Empowered Women Drive Environmental Conservation In Guatemala

06/05/2017 10:41 am ET Updated Jun 05, 2017
Photo credit: FUNDAECO

What do women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights have to do with the environment?

Everything, says Marco Cerezo, General Director of FUNDAECO, an environmental conservation organization in Guatemala.

“If women have access to sexual and reproductive rights they make the best decisions for themselves, for their families, and for the planet,” said Marco during a recent Universal Access Project trip to Guatemala. Marco and his team believe that women are not only uniquely affected by environmental degradation; they are uniquely positioned to combat it.

From FUNDAECO’s point of view, healthy, empowered women can play a more active role in their communities’ sustainable development. It all adds up: women are the primary resource managers and decision-makers in households across the world, so increased access to reproductive health and family planning services leads to more control over the timing and frequency of children, which leads to greater opportunity for women to seek an education and earn an income, in turn empowering them to make decisions about their own future and the future of their community.

“This is not about population. It’s about women’s rights,” said Marco, adding that his team’s greatest challenge has been to “break down the silos” between the issues of environmental conservation and women’s health and rights.

Born as a nature conservation organization 27 years ago, FUNDAECO strives to protect wildlife and forestry in some of the most isolated, hard-to-reach mountain areas of Guatemala. They found that women living in these remote areas also had some of the worst maternal mortality indicators in the country because they had no access to healthcare. In some cases, women would have had to hike a minimum of three hours just to reach a health clinic.

It’s this intersection where FUNDAECO found a unique role: a portion of FUNDAECO’s work in Guatemala is focused on sexual and reproductive health clinics for women in protected areas. So far, FUNDAECO has established more than 23 clinics which provide family planning and reproductive health services for more than 125 communities in 10 protected areas across Guatemala. These clinics combine modern healthcare techniques with traditional practices, including the services of midwives, so that they can be sustainable long-term and managed at the community level.

FUNDAECO’s unique approach connecting women’s reproductive health with environmental conservation is built on an understanding of the roles these women play in their families and communities. The women in these remote communities are responsible for their family’s food and fuel; if they can plan their lives and protect their health, they are better positioned to be active in community decision-making on the local environment.

In fact, globally, more than 225 million women want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are not using an effective form of contraception and 40 percent of pregnancies worldwide that are unplanned. Increased access to voluntary family planning services would empower millions of women to make better choices for their family, which would help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies, improve communities, and lead to a sizable decrease in emissions – as much as 30 percent by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Supporting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women across the world goes hand-in-hand with building stronger communities and protecting our planet. Now more than ever we must take a holistic view of all factors that contribute to our planet’s well-being. It’s time to break down the barriers between issue areas and build off one core theme: healthy, empowered women mean a more sustainable future.

Learn more about the Universal Access Project and get involved at www.universalaccessproject.org.

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