– January 25 2019
Helping women in Mexico find their voice
The small Guatemalan community in El Refugio, Mexico is run by women - though they have very little power. With the men often far from home looking for work it falls to their wives and daughters to ensure everybody’s needs for shelter, healthy food and the essentials of life are met.
Providing for the 150-strong community is an uphill struggle in this remote and impoverished region, and entrenched gender stereotypes only make it harder.
Young mother of seven Maria never imagined she would one day be a force for change in the town she has lived in her entire life. Once shy and insecure, Maria has found her voice as part of the women-run family committee SOS Children’s Villages helped found.
Together, the women have forced the local government to install safe drinking water in the town, set up a community canteen so that every family can afford to eat healthily and obtained birth certificates from local officials which guarantee their children citizenship rights.
Every month Maria – who had never even set foot outside El Refugio until a year ago – takes a motorcycle-taxi and public transport on a four-hour round-trip to buy food for her community.
“I was afraid at first because I had never left the township before, but the other women encouraged me and told me I could do it. And I could!”
The family committee is part of our women’s empowerment programme in El Refugio, which is helping women break down the gender-barriers affecting them and their daughters. We are also running workshops on women’s rights, domestic violence, anger management and parenting skills, and working to ensure the needs of the community’s 35 children – all of whom are under six years old – are met.
Now the women have asked for our support to tackle another male-dominated arena – contraception. Last year a woman from the community died during tubal-ligation surgery, leading many to believe contraceptive methods for women were unsafe.
“I did not know there are other ways for women not to have more children before the SOS nurse talked to us,” Maria said.
“I did not want more children, but I thought I would have as many as Diosito [little God] wants. Now we have learnt that deciding how many children we have is part of the rights we have as women, and that the decision must be made as a couple.”
By standing together, the women of El Refugio have become a source of support and empowerment for each other. And by passing their new knowledge onto their husbands and children, they are shaping their community’s future for the better.