The hardships facing women are intensely challenging, no matter where they are located. Worldwide, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Of the world’s 796 million illiterate people, more than two-thirds are women. In the home women also face inequity, globally doing three times as much unpaid care work as men.
The challenge of being female in Guatemala
And while this inequity is universal, in places like Guatemala it is particularly problematic, with women often facing the additional hardships that come with crippling poverty and hunger.
In Guatemala, more than half of the population lives in poverty. It has the sixth highest level of chronic malnutrition in the world, and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is one of the ten countries most vulnerable to natural disasters. The effects of climate change result in longer and longer dry seasons, the result of which is a devastated agricultural sector and increasingly impoverished farmers that depend on the land for their livelihoods.
And for females in Guatemala, the challenges are multiplied. Lack of job opportunities and decision-making roles plus the rampant levels of gender-based violence create an extremely hostile environment for which women to thrive.
Raising up women — and their communities
Yet time and time again, research shows that when women are the focus of development investments, child nutrition, health and education improve. Raise up a woman in her society and society raises with her.
Transformative steps to breaking the cycle of poverty for women
But how do you break the cycle of poverty for women in places like Guatemala? While the root causes run deep and require long-term complex solutions, here are three things that make a transformative difference — and that Lutheran World Relief is doing in Guatemala right now.
1. Improve nutrition
Gender inequality in a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty. According to the World Food Program, an estimated 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls. Guatemala has a particularly difficult issue with stunting because of malnutrition, with nearly 47 percent of children under 5 affected. LWR has partnered with local organization FundaSistemas on the “Improving Health and Nutrition in Guatemala’s Western Highlands” project. Residents are provided with agricultural training, seeds and tools for farming to make sure their food is varied, healthy and nutritious. Before the project, single mother Guisela did not know how to farm. Now she is growing nutritionally packed seasonal vegetables such as carrots, radishes and broccoli, producing delicious oyster mushrooms and is raising hens, which provide nutritious eggs for her young daughters Maidy and Darriana. With such options, Guisela can be reassured her daughters have a variety of healthy foods to eat and will grow up strong and healthy.
2. Create income opportunities so women can contribute to their family
Lack of income opportunities, coupled with food insecurity, can push families further and further into poverty. Many people, particularly younger generations, leave their villages in search of better opportunities in larger towns; families left behind are unable to escape these communities in gradual decline. In addition, women often face gender stereotypes that prevent them from finding work and opportunities to develop the skills needed to ensure stable incomes for their families. But now that women in Guisela’s hometown of Independencia have access to training and mentorship, they are not only feeding their families more nutritious meals, they also sell any excess produce to earn an income. For Guisela, this is vital to her as a single mother caring for her family. And the project has improved the welfare of the entire community. “Once you plant in your family garden, people see that you have vegetables in your house and they come and ask about it,” said Guisela. “So, if we continue working in this group, we continue planting vegetables and mushrooms, and at the end of the day we could grow more and distribute to the different communities, the nearby ones. And to all the people in the village.” Having a steady income stream allows women to make informed decisions for their families and not only make sure they are well fed but can also afford things that serve as a foundation to a stable and self-sufficient life, such as education and access to health care.
3. Put women in decision-making and leadership roles
For women, a lack of influence in decision-making and representation in leadership roles – from the boardroom to the field — often results in choices about women that aren’t necessarily best for women. In Guatemala, as in many places, agriculture is widely seen as a male-dominated realm. But in Independencia, it is the women who are leading the project, learning both agricultural techniques and business practices. Many are serving as community promoters, teaching their neighbors about health and agriculture and leading demonstrative plots, where community members can practice their new skills. Guisela proudly serves as the organizer and president of her women’s group. Such efforts help strengthen women's leadership and status in their communities, allowing them to make informed decisions about their families’ future. A future, with your support, which is one step closer to being free from poverty.
Breaking the cycle of poverty is a continuous and complex fight, but with your help, the women of Guatemala, and our neighbors across the globe, can keep making strides toward a life free of insecurity and hunger.
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