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Women’s networks in the Andean Chocó: shaping reality through creativity and empowerment

Women from a number of communities in the Andean Chocó region are on a road to becoming stronger, their knowledge being re-valued and to being recognized for their work and their roles as guardians of a greener society. Empowered and determined to create support networks, they demonstrate that both their knowledge and wisdom are engines for the development of independent and sustainable projects over time.

By Paula Iturralde-Pólit

Women in rural communities are custodians of traditional knowledge. Their activities are related to working the land and caring for their homes, but their truly essential work has historically been invisible. It is still common to romanticize women’s work, especially in rural areas where they are recognized as “carers” of their homes and the environment. They perform tasks of vital importance to society, but their efforts and knowledge are not remunerated and there is no real interest in them ever being so. For this reason, promoting empowerment processes is essential. In this way, more women strengthen their knowledge, share it, and recognize the relevance of their own work and the roles they play in each space in which they operate, be it with their family, children’s schools, communities or society at large.

Since 2019, Fundación Futuro has accompanied the process of resilience and empowerment of women as part of its mission to develop more sustainable management activities in the communities surrounding the foundation’s Mashpi and Tayra reserves. The foundation has developed a conceptual and methodological guide, the result of long hours of work and of an adaptation process aimed at strengthening the self-confidence of women in their communities. The aim is women to not only assume their roles as decision makers, but also develop innovative activities that enhance their capacities to overcome challenges, thanks to the knowledge they have accrued as they have overcome barriers.

In this way, Fundación Futuro has managed to promote the creation of new revenue streams within many communities, which shift them towards environmental sustainability and safeguard food sovereignty, through the safeguarding of ancestral knowledge.

“The facilitator invites the women to move around a space, becoming aware of their movements, their gestures, their posture and their breathing.” This is just one of the instructions that the women’s empowerment guide describes, in which activities are carried out with movements, gestures and hugs, or through speech and writing.

“The facilitator develops the movement and rhythm in women through dance, so that they experience a strong connection with their own bodies.” In movement, bodies are recognized as living territories where traces, wounds, wisdom, dreams and knowledge inhabit the same realm. For this reason, the methodology bases its work on the body of each woman in an integral way, and celebrates its value when recognizing feelings and expressions. The movements encourage and create circles of trust that can overcome limitations, fears and barriers of loneliness or isolation.

During the process, the women answered questions to help them recognize their own realities and those of others, discern perspectives and empathize, from feeling vulnerable to allowing fear, pain and sadness to enter freely. These feelings coexist with joy and courage and act as links through which to share experiences where the imagination comes to life, enabling the participants to discover that by expressing feelings and pooling experiences or knowledge, everyone wins. Knowledge is acquired through the ability to identify, observe and analyze facts, but it is so vast that it is impossible to learn everything. The fusion of different experiences into one then becomes the most powerful weapon for knowledge to transcend the search for a path that aligns with the women’s common goal.

Thus, the women from the rural communities discovered that strength can be reinforced and multiplied when shared. At this moment, ideas flourish and, together, the women convert their experiences into creative, positive energy. Each moment of learning acts as an alert to carry forward, reminding them of the path they have chosen to follow. It is the link that strengthens their interrelationships, thanks to being able to find effective solutions to conflicts and share the celebration of their triumphs.

Women are occupying more and more leadership roles and have reinforced the community’s social fabric. They have managed to enrich themselves as individuals and have learned to work in community, to live together and share. An example of the results of these learning processes is the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Guayabillas (ASOMEG). This association was created by a group of nine women who now manage their own projects and have started micro-enterprises based on the production and processing of organic foods — which encourage both environmental and economic sustainability within their communities.

The results of this empowerment process are tangible. It reveals that, although women have historically been silenced and suffered from violence, the very fact of having the opportunity to discover their own essence gives them the courage to demonstrate their independence, creativity and individual capacity. No fight makes sense while there are people unable to raise their voices. The experiences in the communities where the Fundación has worked show that when women participate in decision-making, society will move faster towards the goal of a sustainable future both economically, socially and environmentally.


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