Maria Aldana

Maria Aldana - 2016 Nominee
Position: Independent Consultant
Organization: Population Council
Maria is an insightful and passionate consultant, anthropologist and researcher, and specializes in youth and women’s health, sexual and reproductive rights. – Carrie Rubury, Special Assistant to the CEO at Global Health Corps
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

Through applied research, I have acted merely as a bridge, communicating people's needs and wants in terms of family planning and sexual health and rights to local and international organizations, as well as government institutions. I have had the privilege of working in different parts of the world on these issues and with people of different age groups, sexual identities and perspectives on what to prioritize. Even among the diversity, people know what they want and being able to connect with them as beneficiaries of different programs, but above all, as agents of change in their own communities and families, has been the greatest achievement for me. Learning more about mHealth in Delhi, India and Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, and about sex ed curriculum and tools has been inspiring as well.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

I started off working on WASH related issues, the moved on to child & maternal health, and finally landed into sexual and reproductive health. My anthropology thesis was on women's perspectives on cervical cancer and the Pap smear exam, and listening to their stories on barriers they face, knowledge they had/lacked, definitely ignited a deeper passion for FP. I truly believe that when people have power over their bodies and futures they can achieve many things, and FP is key to that power.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

Bridging the gap between certain religious concepts and what people want in terms of FP has been quite a challenge. Even though Guatemala and Belize, the two places where I have worked and currently work, are secular governments, there are barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights based on religious concepts. Users of FP may also have their own religion that strongly influences their wants and decisions, so learning from these to inform NGOs and GOs are the best way to overcome it.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

The biggest challenge is for girls and women to have access to the FP methods and information they want. I think it's a mix of how women and girls are seen through a historical lens of patriarchy and machismo. I would add that indigenous women and adolescents face extra discrimination and thus, barriers. It can be addressed by understanding that it will take continuous and gradual work at many levels, but especially investing in building spaces where women and girls can empower themselves.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

Continue to work for more people to have access to safe spaces where they can explore their needs and wants in terms of FP, and more broadly sexual and reproductive health and rights. I want to keep on learning from people, at the individual, community and professional level, networking with people who see health as a human right. I see myself continuing to grow in skills and tools to work on these issues, but specifically training and sharing this passion and knowledge with others wherever I am

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