First of all we need to define empowerment, as it is a term widely used in the last few years to define many of the work organizations do in social development. The United Nations explains that: Empowerment is the process of enabling people to increase control over their lives, to gain control over the factors and decisions that shape their lives, to increase their resources and qualities and to build capacities to gain access, partners, networks, a voice, in order to gain control (United Nations, 2012)
What does that mean for rural communities?
We need to understand that rural communities do not necessarily fall under the category to need empowerment in many aspects of their lives. For example: they already have very defined roles for their leaders, in certain communities they have their own justice system and in terms of gender roles, women play an essential role as part of their communities and they are seen as important as men. For this reason, it is very important to ask if these communities actually need empowerment? Or in which aspects of their lives they need empowerment?
When we try to establish a women empowerment project, it is believed that this only means giving leadership workshops or start talking about feminism, because we have the preconception that women are always at a disadvantage in these aspects in all places of the world. This is not necessarily true in many cases and in the rural communities where we work in Cusco, this is definitely not true. We have seen and we work with women who make their own decisions, they are supported by their husbands and they have defined leadership roles as part of their communities. So how can we empower them? We just need to ask them!
December 2019 – Teaching an English class in Taucca community
As our first definition, empowerment meant ‘to increase their resources and qualities and to build capacities to gain access, partners, networks, a voice, in order to gain control’. Once we started asking what they needed it? How can we improve their lives’ quality with resources from international volunteers? We were able to do research with a rural tourism association from one of the communities in Chinchero which is composed mainly of women.
We understood that we can help them to get empowered by teaching them resources they would use for their business and personal growth. In this case, creating a English program that will give them the confidence and resources to speak with tourists and offer them tourism services or artisan work.
November 2019 – Teaching an English class in Pucamarca community
Today, we have taught our English program to six rural tourism associations, from five different communities in Chinchero, Cusco. Over 60 women have benefited from this program, and now they feel empowered to speak English and understand the needs of tourists. This is also a way to continue their tourism business and believe they can do better every day. Many of these women only speak Quechua, the native language, or they do not know how to write or read. Even with these challenges, for us to see their drive and willingness to continue learning is the biggest reward we get from this experience.
December 2019 – Giving away certificates for finishing the program