“Women play important roles in the rural economy as farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. They also take responsibility for the well-being of the members of their families, including food provision and care for children and the elderly”
-The International Labour Organisation
In other words, women play a vital role in the agricultural sector but one that is rarely acknowledged due to gender-based discrimination and uncontested bias accepted as social norms. Achuapa, in which Del Campo members grow a vast proportion of their crops, is no acception.
“Achuapa, just like any other place in the world or municipality or community, well [women] are always marginalised, in some places more than others but in Achuapa whether through history or through culture, machismo is prevalent”
-Brigido, President of Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative, Achuapa
But for a significant period of time there has been a shared consciousness by cooperative members to put this right and in 2009, after listening to these calls from local women -
“We want to make our own decisions, to overcome obstacles”
“We want that our knowledge, value and abilities are recognised”
"We want to continue to learn"
"We want to have the power to work and move forward together”
"We want to feel liberated and are taken into account”
- the cooperative took steps to fund a programme for the recognition of unpaid women´s work.
By adding a minimal additional cost to their main export, sesame oil (which they sell to, among other companies, The Body Shop), the additional income went directly to funding a programme with the aim and objective to promote the participation of women in taking decisions, increase opportunities through active participation and build impressive examples of female leadership for future generations.
Through this minimal (and we mean minimal!) increase in the cost of sesame oil, the coop offers a range of free vocational courses, from tailoring to traditional medicines which, to date, has enrolled 669 women in multiple courses.
“We now have a lot of knowledge because before we didn't have any... we were not integrated and now that we are organised through the cooperative we have been able to further our expertise. I have been in the group for 12 years and now I have a business selling wine.”
- Cindy, cooperative member, programme participant and entreprenuer
Aside from the free courses, the income generated funds an initiative to support groups and individuals to set up their own businesses.
With organisational support, training and increased access to different markets, women from the community have the opportunity to open savings scheme with monetary incentives, presenting a range of entrepreneurial possibilities.
"It is a project that has been developed to support women through a credit system. They work in groups or they save individually and we match the first $100 that they save and organise credit at a good rate for them."
- Inglys, Loans Manager, Del Campo
The groups are organised by women, supported by women and directed by women and throughout the region a range of successful women-led businesses have been set up.
A team of 8 now run a catering company for large scale events, often providing food for the women’s graduation ceremonies at the cooperative centre; others have used massage and rehabilitation to support friends, family and community members with health problems, there are trade businesses including Cindy's wine, which is sold for medicinal purposes and in the back of a house in the middle of the countryside near Achuapa, Ilana makes cuajada (a traditional cheese) and sells it throughout the country.
Set up over 8 years ago, with support from the coop, the business has grown from strength to strength.
“When I joined the group I had it in my mind that I wanted to have a dairy business. I started with very little but now with my business, I support my family, the most important thing is that I have an 8 year old son, so he is studying, and now we live better. Now we have my cuajadita, I have food, I can support myself with various things here. Despite everything, it worked out wonderfully and I have maintained my business. I want to have a factory of employees to give work to others and I'm saving so that next year maybe it can start."
- Iliana, cooperative member, programme participant and entreprenuer
Whilst sadly access to financial independence is not the norm for many women across the world, with projects like this that are pushing to recognise the skills and value of the work of women and place power and impetus in their hands, the hope is that this inequality won't last for much longer.
“Now it is not like before, it's not so limited, and that if the woman wants to work in agriculture, if she wants to do something else, she can do it. If she wants to study and go back to school, she can do it too. “
-Maria, cooperative member and responsible for agor-industry processing at Del Campo
And hearing from more of the women of Achuapa many feel the same: that things are changing and gender equality and female independence is growing slowly but surely.