Microcredit and women empowerment in Guatemala.They are the hope, the hope of salvation of a society in permanent crisis. Against all odds these women build prosperity in an environment of inequality.
Poverty is worse in indigenous areas of Guatemala (Mayan ethnic groups), where the word “future” is equivalent to constant improvement. Up to 78 percent of the population does not earn a monthly salary, which means that full employment only reaches between 22 and 28 percent of the population. Therefore, the self-employed become the true engines of community dynamics. In the department of Quetzaltenango, women live a situation of double marginalization. The payment of labour in the rice farms, coffee or sugar is lower than in men. You get paid less for being a woman and also get paid less because they are Indigenous.
However, with the introduction of microcredit, things have begun to change. Slowly, the women that had access to capital and therefore they are more empowered. The future is now more than ever in their hands. Microcredit is an important tool to develop and focus economic development activities in a process of integration. The credit works as a tool to complement agricultural and craft programs.
The imbalances are constant, but not an obstacle by the daily struggle of these entrepreneurs. One out of two Guatemalan children suffer chronic malnutrition, which severely affects their development.
Also a terrible figure: 700 women die violently each year in Guatemala. Violence against women is part of this society, a reality that is difficult to escape. Only in 2011, 80 women died by dismemberment. Although there are laws against discrimination, a large number of rapes and murders among the female population are still happening.
The women in Guatemala, since childhood, are systematically excluded from education. Traditionally, they have been given a domestic role, linked to childcare and home. On the other hand, illiteracy levels are very high.
Microloans are given in women’s community banks, which show an attitude of solidarity and a process of transformation in the individualistic mentality. If a woman cannot pay the loan, the others take responsibility for the debt. The loan guarantees for women to have regular income and to develop business initiatives.
Community banks have given social responsibility to women, who are now a positive asset to society, and an economic engine. The source of microcredit has been the only funding option compared to traditional banks. And the couple of businesses that have emerged trough-training initiatives have improved their lives. In Quetzaltenango, a community bank has implemented an academy designed to enable the children of the community to have access to technology. Step by step, solidarity work pays off. Despite poverty, despite discrimination, progress is possible.
Text by Toni Limongi