Below is the full length version of SPA’s Questions and Answer with Isabella Cortes Lara, Vice President of Colombian based Women for Conservation. An edited version of the interview was published in the ‘Sister Organisation’ section of SPA’s Nov 22 Newsletter.
SPA: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your passions and what drives you.
Isabella: Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/isabella-cortes-76a965184/
My name is Isabella Cortes Lara, I am 26 years old and I am the Director of Conservation for Women for Conservation. Currently I am completing my master’s in environmental sciences in the UK. Also Known as Isabella Endemica (ENDEMICA) or ISAFUNK, I am an artist, dancer, and musician. I am influenced by Latinx street art and elements of the natural world. I am a multifaceted individual who is heavily influenced by activism. I defend the rights of the LGBTQ, indigenous peoples, people of color, reproductive rights, and the environment. My multimedia art is a mix of magic realism. I delve heavily in bold colors, ancestral sounds, free movement, and strong topics. Native to Colombia, I come from a long line of artists, including the late Gustavo Hernandez. My work appears in murals internationally, galleries, at nature reserves and digitally. I have also performed in festivals, concerts, and venues internationally.
This organization was founded by my mother Sara Ines Lara, she is a passionate conservationist and biodiversity activist. The organization is created in memory of my grandmother, Amparo. We are three generations of mother and daughter connection. Passing knowledge, love, compassion, and ancestral wisdom to as many individuals as possible. Amparo is more than a grandmother; she was a mystic woman with high energetic power. She is represented in our image as our logo. I have always had a connection with her, as I have inherited her abilities and her beauty. My role in the organization is the design, execution of projects and coordination with community leaders. Currently, I work in communities that surround protected areas. We focus on community involvement as a strategy to best ensure the protection of biodiversity hotspots in Colombia and Nepal.
We dedicate our cause to the generations of women – past, present and the many yet to come…
SPA: Where is “Women for Conversation” based, how did it begin, and what are the main areas of your organization’s focus?
Isabella:Women for Conservation promotes holistic solutions to socio-economic environmental issues by empowering women in environmentally sustainable ways. By providing access to family planning education, conservation training, and sustainable livelihoods, we support conservation efforts in rural communities that live in the buffer zones of protected areas. We are currently based in Colombia and Nepal.
We are doing the work on the ground with local women to build an ecological future for Colombia. We are empowering women with the family planning resources, so that unwanted pregnancies won’t increase poverty or stress on natural resources.
We are educating their children in conservation workshops so they can go on to become environmental stewards and pursue environmental careers.
We are training women to become ecotourism hosts, cooks, and guides to create the infrastructure for an economy based on environmental conservation rather than exploitation.
We strive to uplift as many women as possible through environmental initiatives and find solutions which mutually benefits communities and biodiversity.
We have learned from decades of experience that purchasing key habitats and establishing protected reserves is only the first step when it comes to biodiversity conservation. Habitat protection fails if the communities around don’t have any economic opportunities other than natural resource extraction. By partnering with women’s groups in rural communities, we can provide them with the resources they tell us they need most, ensuring maximum impact. By providing education and resources related to family planning, conservation career training, and environmental education, we can promote sustainable practices and an environmentally friendly economy.
SPA: What are the unique ecological and population related issues impacting biological hotspots in and around Colombia, where Women for Conversation is based?
Isabella: We are also working in communities in the Chitwan National Park Buffer zone in Nepal.
Since 2020, Women for Conservation has been partnering with Birds Nepal in a three-pronged conservation initiative centering around promoting family planning education, environmental education, and ecotourism. This project focuses on providing resources to people in rural areas suffering from high illiteracy and poverty rates, and communities who rely heavily on forest and river resources, including the Bote and Tharu indigenous communities.
We work in partnership with ProAves, in 10 different project sites throughout Colombia. We work in Biodiversity hotspots.
Among a few of the most important are the following locations:
Reserva Natural El Dorado, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
Reserva Natural El Jaguar, Amazonia
Reserva Natural Loros Andinos, Tolima
Reserva Natural Reinita Cielo Azul, Santander
Reserva Natural Águila Arpía, Amazonia
Reserva Natural Paujil, Santander
Reserva Natural Tangaras, Chocó
Among some of the most important biodiversity hotspots, we have the wonderful opportunity to work in the Colombian Chocó. The Chocó region is home to a variety of habitats, including mangroves, rainforests. The world’s wettest rainforests can be found in the Colombian Chocó. It harbors the most plant species in the Neotropics.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, hosting about 10% of the earth’s total biodiversity. It ranks first in the world for bird and orchid species diversity, and is second in biodiversity of plants, amphibians, freshwater fish, and butterflies. It is an ecological treasure, yet it is increasingly at risk from extractive industries, including agriculture, logging, and cattle ranching.
We have seen firsthand how the destruction of Colombia’s forests result in negative outcomes for the most vulnerable people. Environmental destruction has made local communities more vulnerable to food insecurity, cyclical poverty, and climate change related disasters.
Women’s welfare and environmental conservation are inseparable issues in the rural communities where we work. In rural communities, women oversee providing the basic needs of their families, including collecting firewood, gathering/growing food, and fetching water; all of which are increasingly difficult in places where human populations put strain on the natural environment. The UN reports that women are disproportionately harmed by environmental catastrophes, and that most climate refugees are women and girls. While rural women especially face the worst impacts of environmental degradation, their empowerment can result in positive environmental outcomes.
- Colombia is one of the top countries in Latin America with the most endangered species, 1st in the world for number of endangered amphibians (289) – article – article 2
- “Actualmente, casi la mitad de los 85 ecosistemas clasificados en Colombia se encuentra amenazada (en estado crítico o en peligro) por su nivel de deterioro, y no es de sorprenderse que la transformación y la degradación de los ecosistemas se evidencian en las cifras sobre el estado de muchas especies.” – article
- Endangered Species – How many endangered species in Colombia? 1455 – article
- Pandemics correlated with biodiversity loss – article
- Deforestation affecting rainfall, drought, flash flooding, extreme heat waves, superstorms, hurricanes,
- Amazon Rainforest as carbon sink, reaching tipping point – “Historically, the Amazon has been one of Earth’s most important “carbon sinks,” pulling billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in vegetation.” – the guardian article from 3/6
- The Amazon basin has lost 17% of its original forest; scientists predict that once it loses between 20-25%, it will trigger a feedback loop of drying and the rainforest’s irreversible decline into a savannah. – article
- Colombia’s looming water crisis – “Colombia has the sixth highest volume of renewable freshwater in the world, yet, according to the charity WaterAid, 1.4 million people lack access to clean water. While rural communities bear the biggest brunt, urban areas are also heavily affected. According to a report by the World Bank, one third of its population is living under water stress, meaning that they might experience water shortages at some point soon.” – article
- Air pollution in Colombia – “According to a study for the World Bank[i], air pollution kills 15,000 Colombians every year. But only about 8,000 of these deaths are from the outdoor pollution that we normally worry about, particularly in cities. 7,000 result from household air pollution, caused by cooking and heating with wood and other solid fuels. This affects mainly rural communities.” Worldwide 6 million people die a year because of air pollution. – article
SPA: Tell us more about how W4C promotes family planning services for not only women, but also branching out into a recent initiative of assisting men to access vasectomy services.
Isabella: All our family planning brigades are designed to empower individuals in the most inaccessible and often forgotten areas by the state. We work alongside ProFamilia, which provides all the medical and professional aid during the brigades. We provide family planning procedures and sexual reproductive health workshops, gender specific workshops as well as domestic violence and abuse support. All the procedures and workshops are voluntary, and we emphasize our efforts in places where the community seeks out our help.
We have recently begun including vasectomies because it has become more widely accepted by men, however it is still taboo and has many misconceptions. First and foremost, we focus on the sexual education and environmental education workshops before introducing our family planning campaigns in new locations.
It is critical to educate individuals on each procedure with professionals who are transported to the communities. Including certified nurses and psychologists who inform each cohort on the details of the procedure that fits them best.
When women are empowered to have control over their bodies, they often choose to have fewer children who are then better nourished, better educated, have more opportunities, and put less strain on the natural environment. Women especially want to leave a livable planet for their children that they are key in bringing about a sustainable future.
SPA: Family planning is not the only focus of W4C, also integrating nature conservation and sustainable livelihoods. Tell us a little more about these initiatives
Isabella: When women are offered environmental careers such as forest guards, bird guides, artisans, and ecotourism hosts, they are passionate about doing work that will economically benefit their children, families, and communities while also protecting the invaluable natural resources that can sustainably provide for their children and grandchildren to come. Women have a direct role in the education of future generations, which amplifies the impact of providing them with environmental education and training.
Women’s empowerment is also a powerful strategy to maximize the good we can do, since uplifting women creates a ripple effect throughout the community. Not only do women benefit from our programs, but so do their children, their families, and their entire communities. Women’s child rearing responsibilities means that they pass down their skills and education to their children, which multiplies our impact and invests in the environmental education of future generations. When women have control over when they have babies, they often choose to have them later in life and have fewer children, which reduces poverty and stress on natural resources. When women are economically empowered, they tend to spend more of their income on household needs, children, and education, which benefits everyone in the community.
By combining nature conservation with women’s empowerment, we can multiply our impact, increase holistic community wellbeing, and invest in an environmentally conscious future generation.
SPA: If Australians would like to support the work of Women for Conversation, what can they do?
Isabella: On our website you can stay up to date with our Newsletter by signing up with your email address. Please contact us if you would like to volunteer remotely or if there are any connections you would like to share with us.
Please donate to our organization so that we can continue our work in these areas.
We are always looking for opportunities to showcase our work, whether it be interviews, podcasts, articles, or books.
Support us by following our social media accounts and sharing with friends.
The most important way to help us is spreading the word amongst your circle, so that we can create more consciousness.
Article on Semana.com https://www.semana.com/mejor-colombia/articulo/mujeres-por-la-conservacion-mas-de-1300-beneficiarias-que-cuidan-las-reservas-naturales/202100/?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_campaign=echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR1cfR6-jNrarQ-I6triRrg9JV1C2nsrdDv8Cd9piSxLt9RrMAUeGfEgiKo#Echobox=1630877035