Si Mujer was founded in 1984, and I’ve been here for over 12 years. I’ve always been close to Si Mujer because my mother was the founder and I used to volunteer here when I was an adolescent.
My mother, Maria Ladi Londoño had the idea to start Si Mujer, and she founded it with a group of people.. She’s a psychologist, a sexologist and a feminist and she saw that women were not getting access to the care they needed when they were faced with reproductive issues or sexual violence. Whether it was contraception or treatment of incomplete abortion, they were mistreated by doctors who were mostly male and had a very patriarchal way of providing care.
Si Mujer is a feminist organisation, and it was founded so that women could access comprehensive reproductive health care with a feminist perspective.
This was a ground-breaking organisation when it was founded. We are still the only feminist clinic in Colombia. Si Mujer was pioneer in providing comprehensive services to sexual violence survivors in the southwest region of Colombia. Our work in SRHR, gender issues and treatment of incomplete abortion meant that during a certain period we had a lot of attacks. In the 90s, our premises were raided several times by the police as if we were a criminal organisation, because some people did not agree with what we were doing. Obviously these raids had no legal consequences, because we were not doing anything wrong, but it was a way of trying to scare our staff and see if they could get us shut down. The context in Colombia has changed a lot, but it was a very difficult struggle for many years.
As a feminist organization, we have a model of services where women are at the centre.
For example, we do not impose an abortion method on women who seek our services. In other places, women can’t choose if they want a medication abortion or a surgical abortion, the physicians only give medication abortion up to nine weeks, because it’s simpler for them. They don’t take into account what she wants or needs. The same thing happens in the provision of contraception – in many places they only provide implants because they last several years and are cost effective. But we help women to decide what type of contraception they want according to their needs. That shouldn’t be feminist, that should just be the way health care is provided, but unfortunately, it’s not.
Part of what makes our clinic feminist are also the small details. We have massage chairs for women to use when they wait for and after a procedure. We also give them mandalas to colour while they are waiting and offer them hot beverages and crackers. A lot of people tell us that Si Mujer doesn’t look like a clinic, because we have posters, artwork, plants and sculptures. We like to make the clinic welcoming and a place where women and young people can feel safe and understood.
We have a sliding scale of costs, so anyone can have access to SRHR services, including abortion regardless of their resources. If there is a circumstance where we can’t provide an abortion we will not just refer a woman, but also follow up until she gets her abortion. The psychologist will call her, identify barriers in her pathway and work through them, with the help of local health authorities.
The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that we’re helping women change their lives, and I think we’ve had a great impact on young people.
There are young people who started here with us when they were 14, they never thought about pursuing university studies, because they were the first generation of their families to try to access higher education. Now from our first group we have six young people who are close to finishing their university studies. They have become activists in their community on all sorts of issues. It’s very rewarding to see how they have become leaders in their communities and to see the impact our work has had on their lives.