“The development of women is crucial for the development of this country.”

Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America, with huge contrasts between rich and poor, and entrenched inequality between men and women. A new legislative proposal aims to give women more opportunities to access the employment market.

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Via the pounding traffic of Guatemala City you reach the Guatemalan municipality of Mixco. Here the cacophony of traffic, shopping centres and cafes gives way to the peace of the nursery run by Liss Perez. “I started this nursery for the income”, Perez says enthusiastically. “I use the money for the local women's organisation that I and some other women have founded.” For thirty years now Perez has been working for the development of her fellow female Guatemalans. “I believe that by creating the right conditions we enable women to prosper”, says Perez. “And that this way women can make a contribution the Guatemalan economy.” Perez knows better than any other that women can really use a helping hand to do this. Instead of playing football outside, as she loved to do as a child, circumstances forced her to care for her younger brothers at the age of 14. The civil war which tore Guatemala apart for 36 years left its mark on the family and Perez was left to face this alone at a young age. In spite of this she managed to pursue her education and to get to work. Now she can help other women to do the same thing. “The development of women is crucial for the development of this country.”

Perez is not the only Guatemalan who feels this way. The wish to be economically independent is felt deeply by many women in this Central American country. Guatemala is one of the poorer countries in the region. The contrast between rich and poor is great, as is the inequality between men and women, certainly in rural areas. And although according to the United Nations (UN) gender equality has increased to some extent, it is often still the men who control the source of income and make the decisions.

“I believe that by creating the right conditions we enable women to prosper."

Led by member of parliament Sandra Moran, a variety of women's rights organisations therefore submitted a legislative proposal to strengthen the economic position of women in the country. If the legislation is adopted women will gain better access to the employment market via credit and training. One of the women's organisations that wholeheartedly supports the initiative is Teresa. This social undertaking lies nestled behind the hills of Patzun, to the west of Guatemala City. In the middle of a group of female employees and mounds of colourful textiles Floridalma Lopez presents her mother, Teresa Lopez; she is the inspiration for this organisation.

Dressed in traditional clothing and with a proud expression, Teresa Lopez tells how she raised her five daughters on her own with the production and sale of textiles. “I have taught them how important it is to work and to keep learning. In order to be personally and economically independent.” With success, it seems, because all the Lopez daughters now hold important positions in ministries and government institutions. In order to ensure that the ancient knowledge of colour and weaving patterns - which has been passed on for generations from mother to child - is not lost, the daughters have in turn set up the Teresa organisation. This way they want to ensure that traditional textile production continues to innovate, with respect for tradition.

 

Sandra Moran is a member of parliament in Guatemala and is behind the initiative for a proposed law aimed at strengthening the economic independence of women. The law has been drawn up by a variety of women's rights organisations in Guatemala and is intended to give women better access to entrepreneurship and the means with which they can develop themselves; such as schooling, capital and land. The LeyDem Act (‘Ley de Desarrollo Economico de las Mujeres’) was introduced in May 2018 but has not yet been adopted.

 

This article was published on International Women’s Day in Dutch newspaper ‘Trouw’. It was written by Tialda Veldman of CARE Netherlands.

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