Women for Conservation

Women for Conservation has a Message for COP26: Leaders Must Do More to Empower Women and Girls

 A Message for COP26 Delegates from a Woman on the Frontline

From October 31st until November 12th, delegates and leaders from all over the world have gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for COP26, the largest conference on climate change since the 2015 Paris Accords. In a video message recorded earlier this week with our collaborator Population Matters, Women for Conservation Founder and President Sara Inés Lara sent a message to COP26 delegates about how women’s empowerment and access to family planning has immense importance in the fight against climate change. 

Family Planning clinic in collaboration with ProFamilia Santa Marta_Colombia

Women for Conservation strives to provide pathways for women’s empowerment and education because when women have control over their own bodies and educational opportunities, the whole planet benefits. Lara speaks to COP26 delegates as a Colombian woman with Indigenous ancestry, who passionately advocates for women on the frontline that are disproportionately affected by the overexploitation of the environment and climate change. In the appeal, she stressed that empowering women is a sustainable solution to the climate crisis for a multitude of reasons. 

One reason is that access to family planning opens doors and opportunities for women and girls, including allowing them to finish their schooling. As research has shown, ensuring girls are able to receive a quality education mitigates both women’s increased vulnerability to climate disasters as well as some of the root causes of climate change. Researchers estimate that the combined effort of ensuring girls have access to both quality education and voluntary family planning would result in 85 less gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere than if conditions stayed the same as they are today.

Our partner, Population Matters reports that Almost half of women in 57 low-to middle-income countries have no decision-making power regarding their health, contraceptive use and sex lives”. This is a reason why increasing access to voluntary family planning education is one of Women for Conservation’s main goals. In her video message, Lara states that this is one of the issues she comes across during her experiences working with rural women.

“What I see in the field is that women want to have access to family planning. They really need it. And many of them don’t do it, because simply there is no opportunity. Logistically, it’s difficult. They are required to travel to cities from small towns multiple times to be able to access these methods.”

Traveling far to access these methods can be extremely difficult for women who don’t have the economic means or who have childcare responsibilities, which is why organizations bringing these services to rural women can make such a difference. 

Lara stressed that one of the main obstacles that has stood in the way of women being able to control their own reproductive futures is the fact that family planning is often viewed as a taboo subject. She urged climate leaders to speak about the importance of family planning in conversations about climate change because of the positive effect it can have upon women’s lives and the planet.

“This is an issue that has to be spoken about. Taboo doesn’t really help. On the contrary, it creates more difficulties and obstacles. Women and young women are ready and we want this change.”

Women’s empowerment offers an untapped force for mitigating population pressures on the environment, but as long as it is seen as a taboo subject, women, girls, and the planet will feel the consequences. 

Family planning workshop_ with ProFamilia Santa Marta
A volunteer with Profamilia shares educational material about family planning, Dec 2020.

The intersections between gender inequality and global climate change are only becoming more and more evident as climate disasters occur with increasing frequency. The United Nations News reports that 80 percent of people currently being displaced by climate catastrophes worldwide are women and girls. In developing countries, women depend on the wellbeing of nature to take care of their families. Rural women are often in charge of collecting water for cooking and cleaning, gathering firewood, and using the land for livestock or gardening. As a result, women are the first people affected when climate disaster hits, as they are unable to get the resources their family needs. Additionally, climate disasters have the most deadly effects on the most vulnerable of society, including women who are left more susceptible to disaster due to pregnancy or motherhood. 

Increased gender equality and opportunity would also positively affect the environment by allowing more women to advocate and decide climate policies. Currently, the women who suffer the worst effects of climate change are also excluded from the decision making positions that are producing the negative environmental effects. As evidenced by the abundance of female climate activists leading the protests outside COP26, policy around climate issues would benefit from more female leadership. Researchers have found that women’s political empowerment correlates strongly with positive state environmental protection efforts, lower carbon emissions, and that women’s political empowerment is an underutilized tool for combating climate change. 

In the current climate crisis we find ourselves at, Women for Conservation’s mission to empower women as a method of nature conservation has never been more relevant. It is absolutely clear that empowering women is a key step to combating the climate crisis looming an existential threat to our planet. 

Thank you to our partner Population Matters for promoting Women for Conservation’s crowdfunding campaigns and our messages from the field. 

Women hold up a family planning kit they were given after one of our workshops, Dec 2020.

Find our latest campaign description and donate here: https://populationmatters.org/women-conservation

Sources cited:

  1. https://drawdown.org/solutions/health-and-education/technical-summary 
  2. https://populationmatters.org/news/2020/04/millions-women-have-no-say-over-what-happens-their-bodies 
  3. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/11/1105322 
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/06/climate/climate-activists-glasgow-summit.html 
  5. State Environmental Protection Efforts, Women’s Status, and World Polity: A Cross-National Analysis – Colleen Nugent, John M. Shandra, 2009 
  6. https://www.econstor.eu/handle/10419/179923