Women Work Together

Mission Statement Women Work Together supports women and girls in highland Guatemala in their efforts toward gender equality, focusing on girls' access to education. Our mission is to raise the socio-economic status of Guatemalan women and girls by cultivating and strengthening their ability to work effectively in groups and aspire to leadership, thus accelerating positive changes in their lives and in their communities. We believe that the cycle of poverty and powerlessness endemic to rural Mayan women can be broken through systemic grassroots change that values and invests in girls' education and leadership. To accomplish this, we have taken an uncommon path in Latin America, partnering ...

Women Work Together
3232 Sixth Street
% Diane Dvorin
Boulder, CO 80304
United States
303-444-8193
http://www.womenworktogether.org/ (We're working on a major site revision now, launching soon.)

Board of Directors

Kristin Sztengel, Theresa Preston-Werner, Jerrie Hurd, Felicity Hannay, Tracy Ehlers, Nicky Wolman, Laura McCutchen, Wendy Baring-Gould, Diane Dvorin

Project Leaders

Tracy Ehlers

Mission

Mission Statement Women Work Together supports women and girls in highland Guatemala in their efforts toward gender equality, focusing on girls' access to education. Our mission is to raise the socio-economic status of Guatemalan women and girls by cultivating and strengthening their ability to work effectively in groups and aspire to leadership, thus accelerating positive changes in their lives and in their communities. We believe that the cycle of poverty and powerlessness endemic to rural Mayan women can be broken through systemic grassroots change that values and invests in girls' education and leadership. To accomplish this, we have taken an uncommon path in Latin America, partnering with local government and community leaders in San Pedro Sacatepequez, San Marcos, Guatemala, to plan and implement Women Work Together programs that strengthen the capacity of indigenous Mayan women and girls. Background San Pedro Sacatepequez is a small city of 65,000 people, 25,000 urban & 40,000 in 17 surrounding aldeas or villages. It is one of a handful of Mayan cities renowned for its local, regional and national trade activity. San Pedro distinguishes itself by its Spanish-speaking indigenous population, the industriousness of its people, and its progressive outlook. Schooling has consistently been an important component of economic development in the town. The rural population, however, has far less access to education and commercial opportunity than urban citizens. Women in particular are marginalized due to their burdensome domestic responsibilities, illiteracy, isolation, and gender discrimination. Disadvantaged in so many areas, women struggle to support their children and are seldom able to take the risks required to expand their small businesses. As a consequence, most rural women are operating the same businesses their mothers and grandmothers ran, and at the same minimal level, selling vegetables today in order to pay for tomorrow's tortillas. Because of the arduous nature of the domestic arena, women must enlist their daughters' labor to survive. For many families, daughters are their only insurance against disaster. Valuing their contributions to domestic businesses and housework, families do not invest in educating girls. They do not believe girls can be the source of future income and improved lives. The significance of this problem became clear when, in our more than 30 aldea visits with adult females, nearly 75% of women workshop participants indicated they could not read. A 2010 municipal study points out that at least half of the women surveyed had only attended school to the third grade, a point at which families can benefit from their labor at home. Studies of girls' attendance in aldea elementary schools show that boys outnumber girls 3 to 1. Such dismaying illiteracy is clearly a limiting factor for women to become leaders in their communities. It speaks not only to reading and writing, but to perpetuating women's submissive and dependent status, a condition that minimizes their potential contributions to community development. Indigenous Guatemalan girls typically have few options for lives that are better than those of their mothers. Their transition to adulthood is compromised by lack of education, minimal employment or business opportunities, and life choices complicated by poverty. Mayan adolescents suffer from the highest school dropout rates in the country, early pregnancy, poor health services, and isolation from community resources. Women Work Together, in cooperation with San Pedro's Women's Affairs Office (OMM) addresses these systemic issues by offering a broad range of activities that are sensitive to the barriers to girls' development while offering opportunities and alternatives for their empowerment. Our Girls Leadership Institute prepares teen leaders to form Girls Clubs in their aldeas that include classmates as well as friends who might not be in school. The Clubs are designed to provide a safe environment for considering the challenges of staying in school, engaging in their local community, developing leadership skills, identifying personal and group goals, and making individual and group decisions. Our San Pedro partners report that the twelve to fifteen-year old girls are already implementing plans and ideas suggested during our first Institute in March 2010. Quite quickly, the teen leaders have formed Clubs of varying sizes and purposes in their villages. They are walking their aldeas, observing and chronicling conditions, deciding which are good and which are bad. They are studying the situations they encounter, interviewing locals about them, and making plans for change. One club started a baby-sitting project to help working mothers. Another is tutoring younger girls to keep them interested in their studies. In only a short time, Girls Clubs are already raising the visibility and value of educated girls by confronting local problems and demonstrating girls' potential in the community. Supporting girls in their transition to adulthood is prominently prioritized as one of San Pedro's top development goals, reinforcing the importance to the town's future of cultivating women community leaders. Women Work Together advances this local community priority by expanding and deepening our successful girl-specific leadership development program that is a collaborative effort between WWT and the Oficina Municipal de la Mujer - OMM (Women's Affairs Office). History In 2007, Tracy Ehlers revisited San Pedro Sacatepequez, site of her Ph.D. research in the 1970s and basis for her book, Silent Looms: Women and Production in a Guatemalan Town. She went to San Pedro upon learning that her old friend, Dr. Marco Antonio Orozco, had become the town's mayor and was deeply committed to developing and promoting women's productive organizations in the town and its rural villages. Progressive and feminist, Mayor Orozco supported these networks through the City's women's office (OMM) to provide training and technical assistance for the women's groups. At his invitation, Ehlers worked with the OMM and Vice Mayor Dora Lopez to train and empower the women via participatory workshops. In 2009, Ehlers asked Diane Dvorin to accompany her on a working trip to San Pedro. They subsequently co-founded Women Work Together to advance girls' education and leadership and gender empowerment in partnership with the OMM. WWT now makes twice yearly visits to San Pedro with a volunteer team of Spanish-speaking college students and adults, most from the Boulder/Denver area, who engage fully in hands-on development. While there, the team runs participatory workshops for girls and women plus trainings for OMM and other City staff, educators, community leaders, local volunteers and outreach workers. This latter group, aka extencionistas, is an all-women corps of literacy workers whom we train to run workshops and support the local programs in our absence. During each field visit, social work students from the nearby university intern with our team of U.S. volunteers, improving the local capacity to sustain and institutionalize these programs and shift community norms in the process. Over the next 3-5 years WWT will broaden and deepen our Leadership Institute, Girls Clubs, and Community Conversations programs, improve and expand capacity building and trainings, and stabilize WWT operations. Impact On a macro level, San Pedro's 65,000 residents all benefit from WWT's work accelerating community goals for women and girls. On a micro level, WWT workshop participants benefit most directly. In a relatively short time, WWT has worked with 1500+ women, helping them form and strengthen groups and networks, become leaders and raise women's visibility. Over 500 girls belong to the 14 Girls Clubs started in 2010 by the 70+ teen girls from our Girls Leadership Institutes. Some 300 girls will age into the clubs annually, many more than those who age out. Thirty new 6th graders will enter the Leadership Institute program each year. While most age out as they complete junior high, we're discovering that some stay on and become workshop assistants or mentors for the village clubs. About 150+ adults have attended our trainings and gender awareness workshops, including 50+ OMM and other City staff, 15 extencionistas who support WWT programs year-round, 40 educators who advise the clubs, plus local university interns, and community leaders. The fourth group to benefit includes the girls' parents and village leaders, the decision makers and opinion setters respectively as regards sending girls to school. In 2011-12 WWT will step up outreach to this group, with Conversaciones con la Comunidad in villages with active lideresas, an effective extencionista, supportive educators, fathers of daughters already in school, and a successful Girls Club. First round, some 150 people will benefit, plus another 150-200 on each subsequent trip as we expand this into more villages. Feedback indicates that most of these 2000+ people have been forever changed by their experience with WWT, with a new view of girls' education and gender equality they've brought into their homes, workplaces and villages. Our 35 field volunteers-to-date, mostly but not exclusively women who range in age from 18-68, report that working with us in San Pedro was life changing. Mostly from Colorado, this special group of volunteers grows by 15-20 or so each year. All 400 supporters in our database, especially our 200+ donors, report that their connection to WWT has changed their world view.

Programs

Women Work Together Programs In collaboration with the Women's Affairs Office (OMM) in San Pedro Sacatepequez, Women Work Together runs four synergistic programs that emphasize the importance of girls' staying in school, even in the face of the many deterrents to do so. These integrated programs are dedicated to interrupting the cycle of illiteracy and powerlessness among women and girls. 1. Girls Leadership Institute 2. Girls Clubs 3. Community Conversations 4. Capacity Building and Training 1. Girls Leadership Institute The Institute is a series of intensive participatory workshops for young teenage girls who are identified by their teachers and principals as potential leaders upon entering basico, or junior high school, generally at 12 or 13 years old. These lideresas (teen girl leaders) continue to participate in our Girls Leadership Institute programs throughout their time in basico, until about age 15 or 16, when, ideally, they go on to complete their high school and, in some cases, university education. Some stay connected to the program as mentors in their villages for the younger girls coming up behind them. The Girls Leadership Institute emphasizes and promotes the girls' commitment to their own education, strengthening their understanding of gender relations, and bolstering their self-esteem while teaching goal setting, decision-making and team building skills. We also work to motivate and prepare these lideresas to start local Girls Clubs in their villages or schools, thus encouraging them to become leaders in their communities today, while effectively raising the local visibility and benefits to all of educating girls and women. WWT is currently engaged in the quantitative analysis of three rounds of interviews and surveys with the girls in our Leadership Institute. Early breakdown of the data shows that we will be able to demonstrate significant changes associated with increasingly higher levels of commitment to staying in school and of self-esteem, reflected in leadership activities. Lideresas from the Institute are demonstrating their increased self-confidence and leadership abilities by taking prominent roles in a variety of community projects, especially in the stay-in-school campaigns. Students clamor to attend Institute programs. Outreach to all junior high age girls via Girls Clubs enables dozens more teens to be leaders. 2. Girls Clubs One of the most valuable outcomes of our Girls Leadership Institute is the preparation and motivation of the lideresas to form and lead Girls Clubs in their own communities. The Clubs are for all young teen girls throughout San Pedro, both school classmates as well as girls this age who are not attending school, for whatever reasons. In turn, the Girls Clubs, provide a safe environment for all teen girls to consider the challenges of staying in school, engage in their local community, develop leadership skills, identify personal and group goals, and make individual and group decisions. In the spring of 2010, our first group of lideresas completed phase one of the Instituto de Liderazgo and returned to their villages to start Girls Clubs, supported by OMM staff and their teachers and principals who had also attended WWT workshops. Quite quickly, these twelve to fifteen-year old girls formed Clubs of 15 - 75 members, in nearly every village and basico in San Pedro. WWT teams of volunteers have visited all of them where the girls told us about their Club's projects and plans. We also ran goal-setting, team building and communications workshops with all the girls in each Club. Over 500 girls now belong to the 14 Girls Clubs started by the 70 teen girls from our 2010 Leadership Institutes. Some 300 girls will age into the clubs annually, many more than those who age out. Through their Club, the girls are learning to consider their own situations as never before, walking their communities, observing and chronicling conditions, studying the situations they encounter, interviewing locals about them, and making plans for change. Garbage and recycling have become the focus of one group. Another is writing and producing a teen radio series. Girls from one village are producing, packaging, and marketing fruit jellies to raise money for their projects. One Club started a baby-sitting project to help working mothers. Another is tutoring younger girls to keep them interested in their studies. In only a few months, Girls Clubs are already raising the visibility and value of educated girls by confronting local problems and demonstrating girls' potential in the community. The project team from the OMM conducts bi-monthly workshops with the clubs. Visits to each village include narrative assessments of the girls' achievements and persistence along with observational data regarding school attendance. WWT and OMM staff members also conduct in-depth interviews with students, participating teachers, principals and extension workers. The girls who are participating in their local Girls Club, as well as their teachers and parents, report that the Girls Clubs are becoming an important peer influence in the girls' lives, encouraging them to grow as young leaders, citizens, and mentors for other female adolescents in their communities. Villages with Girls Clubs recognize the contributions of members who are seen as models for the value of female schooling. 3. Community Conversations A girl's education requires support from many adults, notably teachers, parents and other family members. Having engaged educators, mothers and others, Women Work Together is facing the challenge of effectively involving more fathers in their daughters' education, recognizing their traditional role as decision-makers in the family. Beginning in November 2011, Women Work Together is introducing a new program in San Pedro, Community Conversations. Our near-term goal for this program is to jump-start a continuing series of municipality-wide discussions that cultivate parental commitment and community involvement in girls' education. It is the first step towards parents' sharing the practical difficulties of educating daughters, brainstorming solutions, and sending at least one girl in every family to school. Parents' commitment and support are pivotal to the girls' staying in school. Community Conversations will initiate and maintain engaged conversations with mothers and fathers of the same young teen girls who are part of our leadership and club programs. This offers a situation where parents can talk with other parents, and especially fathers with other fathers, about the benefits and challenges of sending their daughters to school. This format is an extension of our already successful approach to running women's participatory workshops in these same villages. Community Conversations is a forum where the more subtle but vital seeds of systemic change can take root across the generations. The long-term goal for this program is to replace the common preference for immediate benefits to the family of a girl's labor with the parents' willingness to invest in the greater long-term benefits of education for their daughters, their family, and their community. We'll know this is becoming the case when parents' answer to the often-posed question, "How can we ensure that our children have a better life than we do?" becomes, "By sending our daughters to school." 4. Local Capacity Building WWT allocates significant time and resources during each of our field visits to building San Pedro's own capacity to sustain our collaborative programs and promote broad-based community investment in doing so. From the outset, Women Work Together provided training workshops, training materials, regular program facilitation resources, and guidance in the application of feminist participatory methods to local stakeholders. To date, over 150 adults, including 90 City employees, 15 extencionistas, and 40 teachers have attended WWT trainings and gender awareness workshops. With our advocacy, the OMM recently moved into a larger office with community meeting space and is taking on more of the ongoing implementation and expansion of our joint programs. We have helped the OMM director expand her staff to meet this challenge, adding an administrative assistant and a professional program manager, both of whom now support the cadre of extencionistas, all local women. The training program for these outreach workers is guided by the curriculum we developed and presented in intensive sessions that WWT conducts with them during each field visit. This program manager is now working year round with the extensionistas to improve their facilitation skills which they put to work on an ongoing basis with the Girls Clubs and women's groups in their villages. Changing community attitudes and practices regarding girls' education requires collaboration with local teachers and principals. In collaboration with our OMM partners, we continually train educators from each village who become mentors to the Girls Clubs. Along with being Club mentors, these junior high educators demonstrate their commitment to system change by helping us identify girls who are potential student leaders, participating in our full-day in-service workshops, and working with the OMM to recognize and promote girl-centered education in their communities. Women Work Together also provides specialized all-day trainings for university interns who are pursuing degrees in social work and whom we are recruiting to help facilitate our new Community Conversations project.

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