Sisterhood

"Through our products we are preserving the life stories of women - the connection of life, the earth and the conservation of our natural resources.”

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Associacion Teresa, 50 Peru Handmade Accessories & Clothing Storyline

Asociación Teresa was established in 2015 by five sisters from Guatemala, producing traditional handmade accessories and clothing. Growing up in the Municipality of Patzun, around 80 kilometres from Guatemala City, the five sisters faced much discrimination and exclusion.

Reyna the oldest sister, aged 51, explains: “Our father Hilario, a man of strong values, worked hard in agriculture, but he was much mocked in our community as he only had daughters. I wonder if this drove him to drinking liquor when I was seven years old. During this time we faced a lot of violence at home.”

Although the sisters were not discriminated against by their parents because they were female, it was neighbouring families who constantly asked why they were only women. Reyna continues: “When we helped our father in the fields, neighbours would ask him why he wasn’t ashamed of getting his daughters to do a job that belonged to men.”

Reyna continues: “I clearly remember the day that our mother, Doña Teresa, told us ‘Never again will my daughters be teased, I do not want any man to violate or discriminate against you. We will work hard to be professional, have an education and economic independence. I don’t want my daughters to depend on someone else, especially not a man.’” So inspired were the daughters by their mother’s strength and her fight to counter discrimination, that they named their Association in her honour.

Growing up, the daughters alternated their work in the fields with school, as well as sewing and knitting to pay for their studies. Reyna adds: “They were difficult and tiring days, with sleepless nights to finish the tasks, because there was no more time.” But true to her word, and thanks to their hard work and dedication, Doña Teresa’s daughters all managed to finish university with a higher degree.   Attitudes in their community have changed and now people congratulate Doña Teresa on her professional daughters who are recognised for their work, achieving things that other families with sons did not.

When the women started out in the workplace they faced untold discrimination, including violence, social exclusion, racism, sexism and economic limitations. They were determined to overcome this. Reyna explains: “When women are trained and given new skills to earn an income they can overcome these challenges, improve their living conditions and demand their rights, so that they can become independent and support their children. We do not want to stand by and watch women be discriminated against. We want to share what we have learnt from our mother with other women in our community.”

The five women learnt their textile skills from their mother, Teresa, and their Association has a strong emphasis on ensuring this craftsmanship is passed on to the next generation. The preservation of their ancestry is very important to the five sisters who all now have their own families. Reyna adds: “Through our products we are preserving the life stories of women - the connection of life, the earth and the conservation of our natural resources.” In addition to preserving their cultural heritage, the Association is dedicated to promoting the social and economic development of women in their community and addressing the barriers that women in their community face.

The association is not limited to the exclusive work of its members and includes other women from nearby communities who provide them with supplies for weaving. The Association has three small stores where they market their products, as well as promoting on social media and through trade fairs. Reyna adds: “Our Association has managed to counteract the effects of exclusion, discrimination and machismo within families. The women are given an education and the professional and technical tools to change attitudes.”

Another barrier to success that the women face is access to finance, as women often lack the knowledge or experience of how to access funds from financial institutions, to help them grow their businesses. Reyna explains: “Even though the financial institutions want women to borrow from them, they don’t support them through the process. Some financial institutions easily give out finance to women, but they offer no support and their interest rates are much higher. We believe that the institutions should better promote their services to women and guide them through the process with their business plans, including supporting women in local languages with clear information.”

She adds: “Women are often disadvantaged as they have no assets or guarantors so the banks won’t loan them money. We are considering securing a loan to develop our Association, but it scares us. If the women in the Association can’t make the required income then we will struggle to pay back any loans. That, combined with a lack of support and advice scares us.”

The Association’s current focus is on handcrafted products made exclusively by women, including bags, wallets, belts, shirts and more. In the future they are planning to incorporate agro-ecological activities into the Association, which will have the double impact of empowering women to become economically independent and contributing to sustainable development. Reyna concludes: “We want our Association to be seen as a means to improve the conditions for women but also to enable them to have fair and direct access to new markets, without intermediaries. By diversifying the activities of the women we hope they will be able to generate more income.”