Un Mundo is a recipient of our 2015 Feedback Fund. Recently they shared this insight with us.
For several years, Un Mundo has aspired to build a program to empower women. Two times in the past, the organization helped to form income-generating groups for women that ultimately failed. When I joined Un Mundo just under nine months ago, I was encouraged to do some research to figure out what issues caused these efforts to fail and to use those insights to form a women’s group that would be more likely to succeed.
With the support of the Feedback Fund, I set out to see what I could learn. In collaboration with a local gender specialist, I conducted focus groups with about ten women each in five different rural communities. We talked about challenges that the women face and about ways that they dream of overcoming those challenges. Participants opened up about the lack of educational opportunities and health care for themselves and their families, about the extreme difficulty of traveling to the city for access to markets and other resources, about the impossibility of communicating with the world beyond their village, and about their desperation to find ways to make a living. Most of these women have little or no formal education, and almost all of them spend the majority of their time doing household chores and taking care of their children.
“We’d rather collaborate with men.”
But the most striking lesson that arose from these conversations was that a truly empowering group for women need not necessarily be a women’s group. A major factor that led to the downfall of the previous groups was husbands’ reluctance to allow women to participate in activities outside of the home. Perhaps a strategy for getting men to support a women’s project is to make them an integral part of it. Additionally, the women in the focus groups said again and again that they’d be happy to collaborate with men in an income-generating project; indeed, some expressed a strong preference for working in a mixed-gender group. In making women’s empowerment a high priority, perhaps Un Mundo has been thinking too much inside the gender box.
No matter what, it’s clear that we have a lot more to learn before we plan our next effort to empower women. As we do so, I’m encouraging my team to stop envisioning a “women’s group” and to leave our minds open to multiple possibilities for reaching our long-term goals.
In our designs for getting this feedback, we considered modeling it after GlobalGiving’s storytelling project, or using fancy phone surveys, but in the end the process that got us progressing was to sit down and just listen to groups of women. A few deep conversations can sometimes be sufficient to re-envision one’s approach.
Author Amanda Blewitt is Executive Director of Un Mundo, whose mission is to promote dignity, community, and self-sufficiency by working with marginalized populations in Honduras.
This is an example of a GlobalGiving organization that Listens, Acts, and Learns.