SAN PABLO TACACHICO, El Salvador – A delegation of North American women recently paid a visit to El Salvador to see what women are doing there to better their lives, what resources are available for them, what impediments to progress exist, and how people outside the country can help.
One of our group had just asked María Julia Portillo, leader of a women’s cooperative, what government initiatives there were to help them fulfill their ambitious agenda of economic empowerment for women.
We weren’t surprised that “nothing” was her answer.
“You have to look at a problem and work to find a way out of it yourself,” she said.
And that’s what a group of women in San Pablo Tacachico, 60 km northwest of San Salvador, have done, with the help of El Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS).
ADEMGUAPE – Asociación Municipal de Mujeres Guardalupano – has three money-making projects.
From their cinderblock community center painted in bright colors, we walked 50 yards to a tennis court-sized, covered enclosure filled with 500 clucking chickens. ADEMGUAPE’s egg-laying business is run by six women who work two days a week caring for the chickens and guarding the henhouse at night. Their hens lay 19 cartons of eggs a day – that’s 3,990 a week. They deliver to retail outlets twice a week. Another team of women raise chickens for meat.
At present, the egg-laying business’s financial profile is not good: It costs 11 cents to produce an egg that sells for 12 cents. Which is why 200 baby chicks were cooing in a protective temporary shelter. The women are expanding, hoping to bring down costs. Their business plan includes opening additional retail outlets and finding better transportation for deliveries.
ADEMGUAPE opened their third business in November: a “market basket” shop. Last year we saw workmen digging foundations for the store. Now we could walk through the new, spacious addition housing the store, an office or two, and storage.
The tiendita sells staples – rice, beans, oil, sugar, macaroni, detergent, locally made cheeses, and of course eggs – to the public at reasonable prices. As with the egg-laying business, there are growing pains. A small shop doesn’t have much buying power and they need access to better wholesale prices.
ADEMGUAPE has accomplished much in its eight years of existence. They pushed the municipality to adopt policies supportive of gender equality and against domestic violence. Mini-stores have been established in ten women’s homes. They “bank” livestock: One family cares for a cow owned by the cooperative, and calves, when they are born, go to other members.
All of this takes money. Not much – a mini-store needs only a $500 investment – but in El Salvador capital is hard to come by. CIS has funneled money from other NGOs into ADEMGUAPE’s projects, but it’s never enough.
The women want to improve members’ housing. They need a revolving loan fund. They’re not afraid to march in the streets to draw attention to the problems they identify.
Such is a glimpse into women’s lives in today’s El Salvador.
Photo: Women’s rights have a way to go in El Salvador. | Dennis Tang/Flickr