July 12, 2019
By Mike Ziemerink
In the Paramo de Pisba highlands in the Department of Boyaca, Colombia, most people work in either agriculture, animal husbandry or traditional mining. But as mining activities continue to expand into agricultural land, more and more people are being forced to move higher in the mountains to cultivate the protected land in the paramos.
An economy based mainly on mining can be extremely damaging to the life of a community. When mining is the main industry, the environment is destroyed and traditional farming – usually the domain of women – disappears, leaving women without employment opportunities.
Women are then dependent on men’s income perpetuating what is locally known as “machista” social patterns. Women have no voice in decision making, particularly in financial affairs and men make household and family decisions.
PWRDF’s new partner ILSA (Institutio Latinoamericano para una Sociedad y un derecho Alternativos) works with local women to address these needs. The program will train women in nine municipalities of Paramo de Pisba and empower them with the skills and necessary funds to create agricultural microenterprises, protect their environment and strengthen their leadership potential in the public sphere.
“The women face economic exclusion and discrimination, condemning them to poverty, unemployment and stripping them of their gender and political rights,” says Jeannethe Lara, PWRDF’s program coordinator for the ILSA project.
The project has identified 75 women and 400 family members who will take part in training and discussions on everything from women’s rights, leadership, agriculture, public policy and environmental protection. These trainings will promote the women’s participation in the public sphere and create community campaigns on climate change mitigation and environmental protection.
The women will use their new skills to establish a native plant nursery that will help reforest the land damaged by mining. They will also receive seeds and livestock for their family farms including hens, chickens and sheep, which can be used to obtain wool and bred for additional income.
The identified women will also receive training and coaching on entrepreneurship including financial, administrative and technical information. Together they will establish a “revolving fund” where everyone contributes and has access to a shared pot of money. These funds will allow the women to design and establish collective income generation enterprises in order to provide the women with the income they need.
“The project will improve the quality of life of women, their families and their territory,” says Lara.
ILSA was formed in 1978 to work with marginalized communities in Colombia, a country with a history of internal conflict leading to people’s displacement and human rights violations. ILSA works with Indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, women and displaced people to ensure their full human rights.
By transforming the leadership norms of rural women, ILSA seeks to work toward the recognition of women’s rights to the rural economy and guarantee their economic autonomy while creating initiatives for the protection of their land.
“ILSA is creating an eco-feminist response to climate change in the region of Pisba,” says Lara.