Boosting Women’s Economic Opportunity in Guatemala

In Guatemala, poverty most often is found in rural areas, primarily affecting women who have suffered in part from the entrenched belief that women are less productive than men. This fact has hurt the development of women and has greatly limited women’s inclusion in the labor market. According to data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the west of the country offers fewer opportunities for women.

In San Carlos Sija, a municipality of Quetzaltenango in the west of Guatemala, this is often the reality. A comprehensive study of the municipality shows that 45 percent of economic activity is generated by men. Although women do contribute to the home by undertaking economic activities such as artisanal work or handicrafts, this is not viewed as a formal contribution. Women continue to be regarded as only capable of childcare and home upkeep.

For this reason, in my work with the community library Fuente de Saburia, we launched an initiative to promote the comprehensive development of women. Formed in 2007, the women’s group has facilitated workshops to promote self-esteem, personal development, crafts, cooking, promotion of local products, and many other topics.

Since 2013, we have been training and strengthening women in technology skills — from basic computer skills to more in-depth knowledge of Microsoft programs. Taking into account that most of our users failed to complete primary school, our requirement for participation was that the women at least be able to identify the letters on the keyboard. It has been a fascinating adventure, and now our groups know about Word and PowerPoint. This is thanks to the Riecken Foundation and a contribution from the municipality for free internet access. We are taking advantage of this for women to gain information about different topics on the web. We have done web searches, learned about basic web precautions, composed emails, created social networking profiles, and within days we had started blogging.

Today women come to the library and use the internet primarily to look for recipes and information related to home upkeep and maintenance. They are able to use a computer and apply their new skills to find information with confidence. Many come to watch videos about crocheting, knitting, or other crafting projects.

Most of our users are entrepreneurs and have benefited from a series of workshops on entrepreneurship. They have since used these skills to promote their abilities and products on the internet. From this, they can identify a market to sell their products which will in turn lead to a better quality of life. Perhaps we are dreaming too much, but everyday we take a step with these women who are fighting; all they need is a bit of encouragement and some resources to enable them to embark on a path of opportunity.

This article was originally published by World Pulse, a digital media network connecting women from 190 countries worldwide and bringing them a global voice.