Saving for Change members celebrate International Women’s Day

By Tjarda Muller
Visita a huerto - Las Limas Chalatenango - 9
Women play a main role in providing food for their families, by growing corn and beans on the ‘milpa’ (small plots of land, usually owned by the husband) and working miracles with the little income they have. With food prices going up and heavy rainfall, devastating crops, women are the hardest hit.

Oxfam America’s partners in El Salvador celebrated International Women’s Day in early March with a week-long series of activities in the northern province of Chalatenango. More than 750 women members of Saving for Change groups in the region participated in the events, which included the screening of a documentary film produced by Oxfam on problems related to food security in poor countries at a special “Cine Forum” on March 9th.

The film screening was part of an effort led by Oxfam and its partners in Chalatenango to help the women participants in Saving for Change groups to improve their entrepreneurial skills and ability to manage small businesses, as well as small-scale agricultural activities and ability to advocate for better policies to address major economic issues related to agriculture and food.

Other activities during the week included cultural acts, such as theater and folklore dances, organized by the women themselves. This is a remarkable accomplishment. For the first time, women felt empowered enough to organize community activities by themselves and for themselves. It’s an example of how teaching women to save and manage their own funds in a Saving for Change group also builds self-esteem.

High food prices globally, high impact on poor families

The documentary, titled Vamos al Grano, described the food price crisis in 2009. The women in the audience noted that the prices in Latin America have not dropped much since then. “The price of a 20 pound sack of beans has gone up to $30, $35; before, it was $10,” says Juana Morales, one of the participants. “This year [2010-2011] the prices have gone up more than ever.” She explains that the high prices are caused by heavy rainfall, which ruined the crops.

All the women who came to view the film are experiencing similar challenges in providing adequate nutrition to their families. The Saving for Change program is helping women to go beyond saving and small investments to improve their small-scale agricultural production through water management, improving soil through organic fertilizer and other means, and better seed selection. Oxfam’s partners in Chalatenango are training women leaders who are then passing on their knowledge to a wider group of Saving for Change members. Discussing the larger economic issues related to food production and supply will help the women to push for better policies at the local and national level that will help small-scale food producers like them to get the help they need to adequately feed their families, and improve their incomes.

Saving for Change ‘PLUS’

Oxfam is currently funding partner organizations CORDES, CCR, and ADEPROCCA to work with 575 women from Saving for Change groups in Chalatengango to improve their food production capacity, start small businesses, and learn to project their concerns and needs on to local and regional government.

“Saving for Change goes beyond just saving and lending money,” says Milagro Maravilla, Oxfam’s Program Coordinator for Saving for Change in Central America. “It’s a perfect way to start organizing women, and that’s what we’ve been doing alongside the savings activity for three years now. It was inspiring to see how they took the lead in organizing these activities, instead of just participating in events organized by national or local organizations. And now that there is such a force of empowered women, Oxfam is helping them with the necessary skills to take themselves a step ahead economically, and to advocate for their rights.”

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