Skillpower shares the powerful stories of women entrepreneurs from across the world. Global humanitarian and development organisation CARE is helping these women to become successful entrepreneurs. Amilcar Mirón is the Acting Country Director for CARE Guatemala and tells us in his own words about this important work.Read more
I joined CARE 18 years ago in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes on record. I had studied civil engineering at university and I got involved in the reconstruction phase, focusing on water and sanitation.
My country is beautiful, we have so much cultural richness. Unfortunately though, the indigenous women in Guatemala are very much marginalised. Half the population are Mayan and they are discriminated against because of their race and gender. The indigenous women living in rural areas don’t have access to a good education or health services. In rural areas the mind-set of parents is that a girl doesn’t have to go to school because she will marry. As a result of this, illiteracy is a real problem. We also have the highest rate of youth pregnancy in the world, especially amongst 15-18 years.
Amilcar at work, photo: CARE-Brendan Bennan
In most cases, especially in rural areas, women are expected to do all the household work and look after the children and the elders, it’s also common for women to have many children. This can be a real barrier to economic development. Men on the other hand get involved with local organisations, take part in training and go out to work. CARE is working with men to help change the way they view women – helping them to see the woman’s potential and the opportunities available. We need to change the macho mind-set of the men in our country.
At CARE Guatemala most of our work focuses on rural indigenous women – championing their rights, as well as training them to improve their skills. This focuses on helping them to improve their reading and writing, self-esteem, communication skills and time and stress management.
Through our Women in Enterprise programme we are helping women to become independent both socially and economically, by supporting them to set up and run their own businesses. Once they have their businesses up and running, we are then helping them to develop their enterprises by linking them with new opportunities. For example, we are working with a farmer’s cooperative where the women were selling in a very volatile local market with no fixed prices. We have worked with that cooperative to build relations with a private sector company which enables the farmers to fix their prices and they are now exporting abroad. This obviously gives them a much more stable year-round income.
As well as the social barriers there are also many economic barriers for women. In Guatemala if a woman wants to take out a bank loan she needs to provide a guarantee. But with 80% of land in Guatemala being owned by men this can be a real problem. We also know that women, especially indigenous women, do not have the same access to financial services as men.
We are now working with other organisations to try to improve the laws around economic development for women. We are calling on the National Congress to develop more structural opportunities for women so that they can have access to finance and other economic opportunities.
As women are struggling to get loans from formal banks, they are turning to informal financing like loan sharks, where the repayment rates are extremely high. We want to avoid that situation. We therefore need to find a way to persuade both the banks and the cooperatives to provide better options for women. Through talking with financial institutions, it’s clear that it’s difficult for them to change their practices, particularly the big banks.
We are, however, building good partnerships with both cooperatives and microfinance institutions, supporting them to develop new opportunities for women. We need to show all financial service providers the potential business opportunities of working with these entrepreneurial women.
Through the Women in Enterprise project we are already seeing a real impact. One woman, a farmer named Sandra has come so far. I was recently at a meeting with her cooperative and she was so proud to tell me that her family had bought a car. That car not only represents her hard work, but also a better life for her family.
Through this project we are already seeing that women are growing in self-confidence, seizing new opportunities, but that they also have the support from their families. We want to see women playing a key role in the economy of our country.