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Latin American poverty has a woman's face

Women are the center of the underground societal structures in Latin America. Many raise their children alone. They feed, educate and inspire the future generations while being prevented to access education, health care, employment and credit.

Photo of Juan Cajiao
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Most living heroes of Latin America are women.<o:p></o:p>

  • They have systematically decided to stay with their families and fight poverty.
  • They are less educated and less skillful because is priority to educate the boys.
  • They have informal jobs meaning lower income and less access to social security.
  • They also face pregnancy and early childhood alone.

At the same time, they are the enzyme to increase the effectiveness of poverty alleviation initiatives:<o:p></o:p>

  • They lead families setting the religious and societal values.
  • They keep the community connected through their networks sharing knowledge (and gossips).
  • They buy and prepare the food holding the ability to improve the family health.
  • Their health during pregnancy determines the child health.
  • They provide early child hood education, in many cases the only education the children receive.
  • They are the only source of income for most families living in poverty!

Connecting with women head of families is not as hard as we may think, you usually find them:<o:p></o:p>

  • Watching TV: telenovelas (soup operas).
  • Listening radio: music in Spanish or religious.
  • Talking on the phones: fix or mobile, the cheapest.
  • Visiting Church: on Saturday night or Sunday.
  • In community activities: religious celebrations or celebrations related with the main economical activities of the town (i.e. Coffee harvesting)

The main question I have in my mind is: How can we enable women to play their "key roles" in the family (income, health, education and love) much more efficiently and to avoid them being distracted with parallel activities (transport, paper work, job hunting, burocracy,…)?

Some references:


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Hi Juan! Thanks for posting this. I agree completely with the importance of women in different and complementary dimensions of the family/social structure in Latin America. I was wondering, what do you mean exactly by parallel activities and how did you filter these? Why do these activities have an impact that must be considered? Thanks again :)

Photo of Juan Cajiao

Hi Milo

Thanks for asking! This is exciting!

I am not sure I can define "exactly" what these activities are but I'll give it a try.

There is an assumption: when living in poverty life is sustained on a daily basis.

Therefore, increasing the efficiency of the day will exponentially impact the quality of life.

This means that everyday you look, find and lose a job. Everyday you go shopping for food, goods and medicine. Everyday you consume everything you buy. Everyday you start again from zero.

I am calling "parallel activities" all those that do NOT add direct value to the families.

On the other hand, I am assuming that "value creation activities" are those activities that, as they are performed, they increase the quality of life of the individuals.

Activities that add value (i.e.):
- Working: you make money.
- Studying: you learn.
- Eating: you gain energy.
- Sleeping: you make energy and knowledge available to yourself.
- Connect with love ones: you build a sense of belonging and connect through values.

Activities NOT adding value (i.e.):
- Looking for job: to find a job is valuable but "looking for" can be very time comsuming and with very low conversion rate.
- Shopping for food, medicines, services: getting the right things at the right price is great but "looking around for" doesn't mean you will find them.
- Commuting: some people walk/bus up to 2 hours to get to the city, the school or their work place. Imagine what they could do with this time!
- Lining up for social support: 10 people in a line for 1 hour is ridiculos, in Latin America you can spend 2-3 days to get paper work done if you are not "highly skilled" (if you don't read/write Spanish).

What excites me the most is that once these "not adding value activities" are mapped out and weighted based on relevance to the local community, you can easily come with some crazy ways to make positive impact.

Check it out:

- If you commute 45min each way to work, you could take two lessons daily on any subject by radio, by mobile phone, by book, in group... People could learn to write/read, basic maths, conversational English, health during pregnancy, HIV prevention, nutrition, family planning...

- If 5 families are enabled to organize themselves for shopping, they could buy more, faster, cheaper and with credit from each other. A few more hours of work per week, a few mor cents saved!

- Looking for job: we could support them creating "cooperativas de servicio" with a few well selected stuff we could triple (or more) their conversion rate and they will be working much more time than now.

I'm sorry for the long comment, It's a pop corn machine that sometimes takes over :) I hope it makes sense!