Empowering women improves rural communities

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In a country where women fight for their rights daily, NPH Guatemala gives rural women the opportunity to develop skills for active social participation and improved economic independence.

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20 Jan 2022

Economic empowerment is key to transforming the discrimination and deficiencies that women continue to face in Guatemala. Less access to services, particularly to education, limits the employment and income potential of women, particularly indigenous and mestizo women in rural areas. Women in Guatemala make up 51 percent of the total population, yet they have historically been excluded from the benefits of development. The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) estimates that Guatemala has the second-highest female illiteracy rate in Central America.

Many Guatemalan women are burdened with unpaid childcare and domestic work which prevents them from fully participating in the formal economy. Their lack of economic autonomy also prevents them from escaping domestic violence. Many abused women who tolerate violence or do not pursue justice through the legal system do so because they lack economic independence. Therefore, NPH Guatemala partners with the “Oficina de la Mujer” (the Office for Women), a service of the Municipality of Parramos that seeks to promote the well-being of local women and families. Together, we assist women to actively seek their own development, foster women’s community leadership, and promote women’s economic, social and political participation, as well as helping make women aware of their rights.

Dina Lopez, director of the Women’s Office in Parramos and program leader of the “Empoderamiento a Mujeres” (Women’s Empowerment) initiative, has coordinated the program for six years. In fact, she personally knows the difficult situation facing many local women. “Women in Parramos have an average monthly income of QTZ 1,250 (USD 162). Most women here work informally in agriculture or do informal activities, like washing clothes or cleaning houses,” says Dina. This is less than half of the official monthly minimum wage of QTZ 2,872 (USD 372) in Guatemala.

Many women in Parramos are suffer from male chauvinism, crime, and violence. Part of the women’s emancipation program is to help women in at-risk situations to coordinate with specialized groups, and enhance women’s technical abilities. In 2021, NPH Guatemala’s joint alliance with the Women’s Office offered bakery, sewing, and tailoring workshops as options to give women access to the labor market, start micro-enterprises, and improve their standard of living. Josefina, from the town of San Luis, in Parramos, shows how one of these women used this training to open new economic opportunities to benefit herself and her family.

Josefina’s Family Needed More Income

Josefina lives with her husband, two daughters, and a son in a small house in San Luis. Before the COVID-19 epidemic, Josefina worked in a restaurant in Antigua Guatemala for many years. The pandemic caused a major downturn in tourism, so Josefina lost her job in April 2020. Since then, she has worked from home by cooking for events, and sewing fabrics to contribute to the family’s income. “An extra income allows my children to continue studying and become professionals with better opportunities in society,” says Josefina.

Due to COVID-19, schools switched from in-person classes to teaching online. This meant that Josefina had to install an internet connection at home so that her children could continue their studies during the pandemic. “I have managed to make clothes and increase our family’s income to help to comply with the new education requirements, but it’s very difficult,” she says.

How A Workshop Changed A Life

Josefina thinks group training is a great way for her to share her knowledge and enhance her personal skills. Back in 1996, she held talks about male chauvinism. Since then, Josefina has been a female leader in her community, teaching skills to indigenous women’s groups to help generate more income, such as how to make soap and other products, plus how to cultivate land to grow vegetables. These skills are important because in rural Guatemala women play key roles in achieving food security and increasing the livelihoods of their homes and communities.

Josefina learned about NPH Guatemala from one of her neighbor’s children who had graduated from the Educational Center in 2013. One day, she saw a post on social media describing the Women’s Office and NPH Guatemala free workshops in bakery, sewing, and tailoring. She didn’t hesitate to contact Dina Lopez and signed up for the three-month course beginning in February 2021 at Casa San Andrés.

Improving her sewing skills was Josefina’s objective. She was an active student during the course and was the only student who delivered extra garments every week. She knew that the instructors are very talented: “As an interested student, one willing to learn, I took advantage that the teacher shared her knowledge with me because the teacher will advance what is being taught based on the student’s ability,” says Josefina.

During the graduation ceremony, eleven women received their certification in bakery and eight in sewing and tailoring. Josefina won a prize for being the best student, now proudly owning a new sewing machine to improve her home fabric production. During the rest of 2021, she worked for a private business and neighbors. She also took on bigger tailoring projects, like one for the municipality of Parramos, sewing 200 seat covers and 20 table runners. “I would like to learn more sewing techniques, that’s why I signed up for the second course in January 2022. This way I can make other garments using more advanced and specialized sewing skills,” quotes Josefina.

Guatemala’s Women Need To Continue Making Progress

Women continue to be under-represented in social activities and the reality in Guatemala shows that exclusion, discrimination, and above all, violence against women, still exist. More than half of Guatemalans are females. This makes it is necessary to comply with all laws that protect women, to achieve the development and inclusion of females in all plans, programs, and policies, and to provide alternative solutions for the social integrity of women.

“The pandemic comes at a moment in which women’s economic empowerment is at the center of the national agenda,” says Adriana Quiñones, the UN Women’s Representative in Guatemala.

NPH Guatemala is committed to the promotion and implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through our Preparation programs, we support strong women with SDG #5 – Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; SDG #8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; and SDG #10 – Reduce inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries.