In Guatemala, Women’s Work Equals Women’s Empowerment


Did you know that the founder’s of Awakened Spirit Yoga has a non-profit called WELLKIND? Julia Forest and her husband Suvas Vajracharya began WELLKIND in 2018. Currently, the non-profit has programs running in California & Guatemala to cultivate economic and ecological wellness.

 


by Catriona Glazebrook

Women near the village of Tzununȧ are earning a living wage thanks to a non-profit organization called WellKind Guatemala. In 2020, WellKind Guatemala started a women’s artisan cooperative program. By the end of 2021, the cooperative had 105 members. For 2022, the organization’s goal is to expand to 130 members.

This year, WellKind will also work to provide other opportunities to the weavers, such as scholarships for their children, additional training in health and wellness, and, in general, deepening its connection with the community and the women. One key objective is building a community workspace and meeting area to provide a place for artisans to gather, work, and meet together.

Many women learned to weave as a family tradition. WellKind preserves important design techniques that have been passed down through generations of Kaqchikel Maya. On top of this cultural preservation, some women are offered scholarships to learn how to crochet and join the cooperative. All women are paid a living, fair-trade wage for creating crochet products and receive free trainings from WellKind in producing the most marketable objects for sale.

WellKind Guatemala is working with Buena Onda Games to distribute and sell the products to United States retailers. By doing so, WellKind is helping women find a market for their products. The women weave for 10 hours per week on average, earning above the national minimum wage. This work lets them cover food and clothes for their families and send their children to school.

Investing in women’s economic empowerment is key to building a better economy for Guatemala. Especially when only one in ten indigenous women do paid work, and at a time when almost 80 percent of indigenous Guatemalans live in poverty. Women represent only eight percent of those who are in an occupation or actively searching for one in the municipality of Santa Cruz La Laguna, in a large part because women, especially indigenous women, have much less access to education (Mendez et al., 2008). Our cooperative offers a powerful opportunity for them to learn professional skills and support their families.

According to Marcela Perez Sipac, the eighteen-year-old leader of WellKind Guatemala’s artisan cooperative program, “My father passed away when I was young and my mother became an alcoholic. As a result, my siblings and I had to provide for the household. I am very thankful to WellKind for helping us start this cooperative because it has empowered many indigenous women here in Tzununȧ like myself.  It has allowed me to buy food for my little brothers and sisters, and my aunts also work making handicrafts with us. I am proud to be a leader to these women and help them become financially independent and have safe and dignified work.”


Photo of Marcela Perez Sipac

 

Supporting and promoting indigenous women’s entrepreneurial abilities is transformative, not just for them, but also for their families, their communities, and the entire country. Amid the COVID-19 restrictions, it is more important than ever to improve and advance the economic power of local women. Along with providing new skills, it also allows them to believe in their own knowledge and worth. 

This is important because domestic violence is another major issue. In 2020, 171 women were the victims of violent acts committed by their partners.[1]  Lack of economic resources has been a major reason why women may choose to stay in abusive—and even violent—situations.

The WellKind cooperative has become a safe space for local women to obtain support through difficult situations. WellKind Guatemala staff, partners and consultants provide helpful information about how to address domestic abuse. WellKind also offers a safe avenue to report these problems to local authorities. We have partnered with Amigos De Santa Cruz, an NGO in a neighboring village that comes to address these issues. WellKind organizes the safe space for the groups of women and Amigos de Santa Cruz provides the legal avenues for them to report these cases of domestic violence.


 By Catriona Glazebrook – Executive Director of WELLKIND

Additionally, by being able to bring income into the home, women lighten the burden they bear to keep food on the table and provide for their children. Julia Sosa, who has worked with the cooperative for four months, finds that she is able to work from her own home to make a decent living. According to Sosa, “My husband and I have had trouble finding enough work to put our kids through school, but now I’m slowly saving more money. The artisan cooperative has become my second home and I feel it’s an open space for local women to work and share ideas. It’s very tough supporting a big family when all you have for work is cutting firewood and weaving. I was not given an education as a kid because my parents had no money. I hope to be able to provide for my kids and give them a better future through this work.”

There is no doubt that supporting women’s work is a way forward, not just for local indigenous women, but for all future generations of Guatemalans.

 For more information and to learn how to participate in supporting local women, visit www.wellkind.org/guatemala.

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