‘The poor are always with us’; look on the news to see the displaced in refugee camps, pass a homeless person in the street, open emails to find another campaign desperate for donations to end poverty. It’s easy to think that poverty, defined as the severe lack of material possessions or money, will be a stain on human consciousness forever. Luckily, there’s no room for this kind of pessimism on 17 October, which marks the UN’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The UN has decided the theme for this year will be ‘Moving from humiliation and exclusion to participation: Ending poverty in all its forms’.
So why this theme? The word that really stands out to me is ‘exclusion’. Exclusion traps individuals in a cycle of poverty. Often, what can result in an individual’s extreme poverty in the first instance is discrimination based on a simple social characteristic, such as their creed, ethnicity, a disability or sex/gender. Being ‘poor’ adds to this social stigma with its own stereotypes: that person must be lazy, unclean, untrustworthy, etc. This means that breaking a cycle of poverty is like trying to climb a ladder without rungs; employees refuse to employ, neighbours refuse to support and even governments fail to reach out.
When I was on my ICS placement in Nicaragua, I was surprised to find how many women were single mothers. In some cases, their husbands were working away, for instance building the new, smooth road running from the capital or working in a city. However, in other cases, women had been abandoned by the child’s father upon or even before the birth of their child. This was what happened to Sandra, a twenty-year-old mother of two, a friend and a fellow volunteer. Sandra was fortunate to be surrounded by people who support and care for her. She lives with her parents and is most definitely fully involved in village life. In El Bramadero, in general, single mothers were well integrated into the community. However, 1/3 of women in Nicaragua will be single parents at some point in their lives and other stories I heard from my host mother, Epifania, confirm that not all fatherless families are as lucky as Sandra’s. The traditional ‘machismo’ (aggressive masculine) attitude prevalent in Nicaragua results in poverty-inducing exclusion for many women, especially those living on their own with children, in a society devoid of a public welfare system. In agriculture, legal and cultural codes still make it difficult for women to own land and employment in physical labour in ‘granjas’ (farms) is also impossible. Luckily, local organisations are fighting to overcome this.
Somos la nueva generación de mujeres fuertes: girls from the village taking part in the Day of Patriotism celebrations.
ASOMUPRO (the Association for Female Producers), an NGO operated and staffed purely by women that works in eight departments in Nicaragua, has partnered up with Progressio to help benefit the communities of Parcila and El Bramadero. Whilst they work with both women and men to help alleviate poverty, one of their key goals is to allow women to be less dependent on men and thus less vulnerable to poverty without them; in this way aiding the breaking down of poverty through social inclusion. During our time in El Bramadero, we constructed 17 eco-stoves and four eco-ovens. Being the second to last cycle, this meant we got to see how these stoves and ovens are helping all beneficiaries, including single-parent families, who were some of the first beneficiaries of these projects back in the September 2015 cycle. Both reduce wood consumption and the emission of harmful smoke hugely, meaning less back-breaking work chopping wood, and healthier lungs for mothers and their children. The eco-ovens have made it easier for the female bakers of the village to sell their rosquillas (traditional biscuits) and pan (bread), by reducing fuel consumption and speeding up for baking time. By making household tasks easier for women, ASOMUPRO and Progressio have helped to free up time and money for women to carry out their own enterprise, such as running a shop or becoming an active member of ASOMUPRO themselves. By putting women in leadership roles, activities like these help to break down gender stereotypes and reduce the chance of female social exclusion.
Con la eco-estufa bonita: Sandra making tortillas on a new eco-stove
This small example of female empowerment in rural Nicaragua is just a microcosmic example for what overcoming social exclusion would mean for the eradication of poverty. Battling caste systems, racism, gender inequality, homophobia and religious discrimination will help re-include whole groups into communities and thus help them become a healthy part of the economic system. There is clear hope that we can chase out poverty, and overcoming exclusion is a good place to start.
See http://www.un.org/en/events/povertyday/ for more information.
Written by ICS Alumni Anna Klaptocz (July - September 2016 cycle, El Bramadero, Nicaragua)