My depiction of the 21st century woman prior to my departure was outspoken, courageous, with a social temper to the changing landscape of the female in the modern world. My view has been restricted solely to the Western world, dominated by liberal values championing universal meritocracy disposing of the homely pursuits which have defined the role of women throughout the decades.
Arriving in Honduras as a young woman from England where we are socialised to flaunt our innate right of freedom of speech by challenging political and social ideas which may restrict our liberties, to come into contact with my female counterparts here was truly an eye opener. The shy, timid Doña Garcia serving me tasty homemade galletas in Belén barely audible due to her low soft tone was a complete contrast to the bubbly adolescent who whips up my caramel macchiato in Starbucks in Manchester. Reflecting on our introductory day in the community it became apparent to the volunteers that this was the norm. Always greeted with a sincere smile but very rarely followed by a wish to erect any form of conversation. Women in the rural Lencan community of Belén were not empowered. They had not been given the opportunity to find a sense of self and be confident in one’s own skin. Accustomed to work in the home with little opportunity to exercise their own voices and opinions, the women were ostracised from the decision making process and constrained by traditional stereotypes, with very little reward for their continuous hard work maintaining large families.
Returning back to the volunteer home in La Esperanza, it was time to elect a leader for the workshops. I myself felt a strong connection towards the women’s group and wanted my role here to be instilling pride and a sense of importance into these women’s lives, which they truly deserved. So Karen, Lillian (national volunteers) and I were put to work. After consulting with the women on their areas of interests, they made a collective decision to cover human rights, female hygiene and contraception, to name a few. Karen and Lillian’s energising, feel good dynamics begin each session engaging all members through a variation of exercises to build self-esteem. Followed by a craft activity just for a little bit of fun and for us to have the privilege to witness the smiles blossom on their faces as they see the end result of something they have created. Whether a bracelet or a painting, it belongs to them.
'Listas' (ready)! 10am Wednesdays is female time. No men allowed for two hours. A women’s only zone to be free and as outrageous as you like. On our first day we had the pleasure to be greeted by 24 eagerly awaiting women at 10am sharp. I was completely overwhelmed by the turnout. From this moment I knew this could truly evolve into something life changing for these women. Failure was not an option. However, this would also be my first time speaking Spanish in a public forum and after only two weeks in country, it was slightly petrifying. With the help of some prompters from our trusted national language volunteer Jorge, and Helen on the sideline to sweep in if any mistakes were to occur, we were 'listas'.
The speech went as planned with very few hiccups and the message was translated. The women understood this was a time and space solely for them to express themselves sharing any thoughts they have patiently been waiting to exert through debate and the kick ass dynamics. One of our favourites 'What makes you unique as a woman?' 'I'm Lencan and beautiful, in a community with kind, compassionate women.' Inspired and emotional at the response, which was slightly outside the box from the usual 'homemaker' and 'beautiful', the volunteers all suddenly were sat up with their eyes wide open. These words bore from our new leader Miss Maria Celestina. Tenacious, brimming with confidence behind her infectious smile and fiery passionate eyes, we instantly knew she could lead these women to the future.
We knew from this moment we no longer had to worry about the sustainability of the women´s group. One of our primary concerns when drawing closer to the end of our time here was the continuation of the group and how it would progress once we had left. It was necessary we elected leaders and introduced them formally to all and they understood the importance their group had within the community and their hierarchy, and that achievements were visible to all. We no longer had sessions with minimal conversation, we had infused debate within the group. Doña Garcia had found a voice and was challenging the view of Maria Celestina. After many weeks reserved in her chair observing, she had finally took the stage.
The heart-warming moment when she delivered the thank you speech on behalf of the women’s group to the ICS volunteers in front of the whole community was one that filled us all with pride and success. This definitely was a moment that will stay close to my heart for the rest of my days. To know they have a space just for them which they can continue to flourish and share their highs and lows together whilst educating one another is a triumph.
Written by ICS volunteer Shemiah Thomas