While volunteering in El Salvador with Progressio ICS, Annamaria Stewart had the pleasure of working with truly inspirational women. Annamaria says they are heroes of their communities, and for all women. This blog from Annamaria includes some of their stories and is part of our International Day of Rural Women celebration.
When we arrived in Santa Marta, El Salvador, our group was welcomed by extroverted women like Elida Escamilla and Yeni Membreńo. They were the smallest in size, but they weren’t afraid to speak up in a group of 20 different people. Ana María Gonzáles is another great example of an independent woman facing challenges straight on rather than focusing on what she lacks.
Ana María Gonzáles
A statement that is usually heard within the small rural communities these women live in is; 'The men are to go to the corn fields and build the buildings, the women can stay home and take care of the house,' but when Ana María Gonzáles was asked to describe women in the community, she said; ‘decisive, empowered and have an eagerness to work.’
She added, ‘I consider myself to be a strong, independent and free woman.’ It was inspiring to see her speak about the feeling of being liberated and free to make decisions about her life and her body. Ana María, like many of the female group members, stood alongside men, getting involved in making decisions, construction and the cutting and lifting of rocks and bamboo during the project I worked on.
She told me that, during a time of repression, a 12 year civil war had broken out. Women and men fought in the war as equals. This meant that women left their homes to protect their families in a way that went against the social concept of a ‘woman’. By doing this, they changed their position in society.
Santa Marta is a beautiful community where people can be very conservative in their thinking and, generally speaking, the males have harvested the fields and the women have taken care of the homes.
Elida Escamilla speaks about the evolution of these defined gender roles in Santa Marta. ‘I think the role of women is changing. Women are involving themselves in new things such as this project (Progressio ICS), where we have taken part in unconventional activities such as construction. In terms of traditional duties in the home, we haven’t gotten to a point where the workload is equal, but at least our men help us.’
Women are getting involved in the community and are forming co-operatives. These functioning businesses such as the local bakery opened and operated solely by women show us that women are starting to have the same opportunities and success as men.
The Progressio ICS project offers opportunities to both genders to learn and to develop. We stay in a community for eight weeks and are challenged to complete tasks, including construction, research and development, public speaking and presentations. These jobs are not gender specific and the programme encourages all to take part in every different activities.
I spoke with some of the local women volunteers about their roles in the community and within the project. Yoselyn Ayala, like me, a female group leader immersed herself into the project. She explained that, through the project, she believes she has become stronger.
‘It has shown me that not only men can do construction. With our minds and bodies, we can do construction too. We have shown that we have the ability to learn these skills and through this I feel liberated in knowing I can achieve this.’
How are men being affected?
Franklin Lainez had gained a lot of respect for the women, through working side by side with his female team members. He said, ‘the project has helped me change my thoughts of women. I have seen women do things that I didn’t think they could do, such as carry bamboo. But, just like women can do both jobs, I believe men can do both, I cook and clean at home too.’
To find out more about International Day or Rural Women, click here.