Discrimination against women is common throughout Latin America, and Paraguay is no exception. Women in rural areas are particularly affected by discrimination. They have fewer opportunities to generate their own income and become more financially independent.
To address this issue, the Inter-American Foundation with grantee partner Tierra Nueva has been working since 2015 with women in the community Compañia Presidente Franco, in the district of Piribebuy. Project participants aim to implement an organic and agroecological vegetable production system and to sell the products through a local farmer’s market. Tierra Nueva is an organization that supports sustainable development projects in Paraguay.
Most of the 50 families participating in the project in Presidente Franco are headed by women. Many men from the community work temporary jobs on other farms, at construction sites, or in factories in neighboring areas. The men are often not at home for extended periods.
The initiative helps women increase output from vegetable gardens through an integrated production system that employs biodigestion technology to produce fertilizers and biofuel. The women also use a watering system, a greenhouse, and shading to improve their gardens. To help with marketing and sales, representatives from Tierra Nueva accompany the women to the monthly farmer’s market in the nearest urban area. Many local and national institutions and agricultural production firms participate in the market, making it a worthwhile site for sales and networking.
One project participant, Ramona Burgos, earned $300 by selling squash, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beets, and chard from her last harvest. “The money I made really put my mind at ease,” said Burgos.
The project touches on some of the more intangible constraints faced by peasant women as producers, including low self-esteem and lack of recognition of their potential as food producers. Some other producers as well as technicians in the field consider anything related to gender equity a threat to the family. Some husbands have responded to their wives’ earnings by stopping contributing to family and household expenses.
These setbacks have not discouraged the women of Presidente Franco. They recognize the importance of generating their own income in order to establish their independence. The empowerment process is taking hold. For example, although Tierra Nueva and other institutions involved initially ran the meetings for Presidente Franco, the local women now actively make decisions. Project leaders anticipate that the organization will become self-run and self-sustaining in the near future. Several project participants also tell of speaking privately with their daughters to stress the importance of being financially independent, either through education or by working on their own, so as not to be dependent on spouses.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the project’s success was its selection in the 2016 Latinoamérica Verde (“Green Latin America”) Awards as one of the top projects in the region. The project was ranked 61st from among more than 1,000 initiatives.
Despite the project’s advances, the women of Presidente Franco have identified several challenges throughout the two-year learning experience. First, there is an ongoing need to find a balance between project activities, farm work, and women’s caregiving responsibilities. Second, there is a need to bring in more female technical specialists to work with the producers. Including female experts creates a stronger bond for participants and facilitates trust, which allows the project’s reach to go beyond productive activities to include personal development for participants.
As one beneficiary who worked with female technicians said: “They’re not just technicians. They’re like me.”