Advancing the Interests of Women

Read about our projects to assist women below

As the saying goes, “Women hold up half of the sky,” but do you realize that in the global South, a woman does it with a jug full of water on her head and a baby on her back? In the Sierra Madre of Chiapas, poverty continues to grow and the forests continue to be clear-cut. With so much talent at balancing the many demands of their lives and the lives under their care, women must come out of the shadows, learn to trust themselves and then begin to put the ethics of a healthy life back into their proper place again.

The Sexto Sol Center advocates for a shift in thinking on the part of government agencies involved in development from viewing women as the recipients of development projects to that of seeing them as gestores, the ones to generate solutions to their problems. Only when people are given a chance to grow do they rise to the task of changing their circumstances.

Sierra Madre women suffer the same challenges as their sisters in developing countries; high birth rates, little access to education and health care and few opportunities to earn. They accomplish their unending household work without adequate water, washing clothes by hand and cooking with firewood that must be gathered from a picked-over and exhausted watershed.

Women do not usually form coalitions among themselves. They tend to live in dis-empowered isolation, maintaining distance from each other through gossip and mistrust.

As the economic crisis caused by depressed coffee prices worsens, women are faced with the reality that their only hope for the family’s survival is to have a son or their husband make the dangerous journey to the U.S. in order to send money home. The mass exodus of men from the Sierra Madre leaves women to manage the home and family alone while remaining completely dependent on the men to send money home. They line up at the phone booths to wait for the weekly call from their loved one who is far away in a strange and unreachable place.

Young women go to Tijuana to find work in the maquiladoras or to Mexico City to work as maids. While both options provide them a way to earn a living and a first experience away from home, they do not offer girls a chance to develop themselves to their full potential.

The Sexto Sol Center maintains that the women of the Sierra are una potencial económica dormida or a dormant economic force. We advocate for the full participation of women in all social and political activities. We assist women to organize productive cooperatives that will allow them to contribute to the family economy. (See the article in our Coffee Crisis section).

The opening of opportunities for women must also include the awakening of women to their own value and potential. In all Sexto Sol projects we specifically express the expectation that women be viewed as full partners in the collective businesses. We repeatedly encourage the women to opinar, to express their views, to receive any training given and to participate in the leadership. We have not seen men oppose this shift and on the contrary, usually support their women in moving ahead.

Attitudes at the government level are perhaps less malleable. An attempt in 1999 to assist a women’s cooperative to create a commercial poultry business failed when agencies that should have provided start-up capital could not imagine that women can be entrepreneurs. We believe that the answer to the extreme poverty of the region is not more corte y confeccion workshops to train women to sew, the usual develoment project provided for women. In the effort to suggest more creative view of women we have called for a regional conference on women and development, a suggestion that SEDSOL (State agency) agreed to take up.

Freeing women from chores for cottage industries

Women need financial independence. But the responsibilities of caring for children and home take up much time that is lost in tedious work like washing clothes by hand or searching for firewood. Sexto Sol promotes solar box cookers and other labor and tree saving alternative technology that liberates time that can better be used to produce something that they can sell for an income.

Over the years women have come to us to ask for help to promote their products. We assist emerging cooperatives to have good process so that they can work together. Sometimes it is not so easy when people are not accustomed to working together. But Sexto Sol exists to encourage people to find the will to overcome

In Chiapas and Guatemala there is a huge problem with solid waste, mostly plastic. This is a great free raw material that can be made in to handbags, totes and other useful things for sale. A young woman in Nuevo Bullaj community is already making beautiful handbags from chip wrappers to earn for her education. Her dream is to study child psychology so she can help children at risk.

Partnerships with local agencies toward the empowerment of girls and women

  Barrios Unidos por Motozintla: We are helping two groups of women to create cottage industries that will provide single mothers with income. This photo is from one of the days of consciousness raising to help them work together for the well-being of all members.

Albergue Providencia: provides housing in Motozintla for 45 girls from mountain communities without schools. With this assistance from the Nuns of the Sisters of Providencia, girls have the opportunity to finish technical school in preparation for careers like nursing or preparatory school and go on to college. The Sisters must depend on contributions from the parents to run the school. But many parents can not afford to contribute to the cost of the food.

Since permaculture can offer solutions, we are designing a system of planters to provide growing space on the large cement patio. We have provided assistance with grant writing to the nuns in charge since 2000. We provided a workshop on granjas integrales, diversified homesteads, to the parents of these girls.

Empowering mothers of malnourished children

At the request of the Social workers at the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social, (IMSS), Dr. Brennan has provides workshops to mothers of malnourished children who participate in the Centro de Recuperacion Nutricional, (the Center for Recuperation through Nutrition). Workshops provide information to women about the intellectual and emotional needs of their young children, an introduction to child development, discussion of how to manage conflict with their spouses, and how to discipline children without violence.

For good measure, there is a good dose of the following added: An examination of the negative impact of “machismo” in the family, a strong advocacy for moms to no longer enforce stereotypic gender roles for boys and girls, a suggestion that women begin to work pro-actively together to solve common problems and to end the isolation in which they usually live. The women come to Escuela Tierra Linda to learn how to grow organic food. Response to this training has been enthusiastic.


(Potted Flowers)

The women collect beauty to bring into their homes.
You can rely on them for that;
broken Christmas ornaments arranged carefully
among the photos of her children,
color found in the garbage dump
during war.
Not so remarkable when you really think about women.

Because they heard that I sell flowers,
or maybe it was the chance to get seed,
flores de "Los Estados,"
they walked kilometers up hill to the farm,
heavy and laughing out of breath.
They came for flowers to plant in cans
that they'll paint white with lime to repel ants
and hang on a nail pounded confidently
into the yielding adobe.
Coins were stashed away for this purpose.

This search does not know the limit of poverty.
The most humble home has its flower
joyfully ignoring worry.
And that is how I am continually reminded to believe.

Tamara Brennan, 2000

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