This year, Mary’s Pence staff and board worked closely with the ESPERA team based in Mexico and El Salvador to identify the best ways to support the goals of organized women working for economic autonomy. Although that’s an ambitious challenge in and of itself, it’s also necessary to recognize the myriad of challenges that women experience as they navigate rural poverty, political upheaval, hurricanes and weather changes, violence at home and in the greater community, and the pandemic!
That is why accompaniment is at the core of ESPERA’s new strategic plan. The ESPERA team defines accompaniment as “walking with women in all areas of the work with a tenderness of the heart.” Listening deeply builds strong relationships.
Accompaniment includes working with women’s organizations to make intentional decisions about the development and implementation of strategies to build a stronger, more effective partnership. It also includes creating additional opportunities for women by means of connecting groups and providing networking platforms. Reflecting on our work to support women we are committed to the following strategies.
Economic Autonomy though Strong Economic Initiatives
In 2013 we started to place a stronger emphasis on learning and applying business skills. But we found that women need access to knowledge and tools to grow their business, as well as the accompaniment of visits from the local organization’s coordinator and Mary’s Pence staff. Based on this need we now offer coaching and training for ESPERA women. We plan to make this support more systematic and provide our partner organizations with the skills and financial resources to support the entrepreneurs in their local groups.
Strong Local Women’s Organizations
For women to have a strong collective voice in their communities they need to be organized. That is why we work with women’s organizations and prioritize supporting local women leaders. Every month ESPERA staff visit with each of our 10 partners—to understand their organizations’ needs and help them problem solve. Currently, leaders and emerging leaders from each group are participating in a yearlong opportunity to learn and implement leadership and teamwork skills. We plan to expand this program to a new group of women in the coming year.
Growing food in home gardens is a strong tradition rooted in Central America and Mexico’s history. Many women who receive loans from their local ESPERA lending pool use the funds to grow crops for their families’ consumption. But for many others this tradition had been disrupted by war and lack of access to land and land rights. During the COVID-19 pandemic it has become urgent for women to start gardens or expand their crop production. Helping to promote family gardens is an essential component of supporting our partners as they continue to grow the number of women that produce a portion of their own food, know how to preserve food for future use, grow crops in ways that are respectful of the earth, and incorporate produce into healthy eating habits.
As ESPERA staff worked closely with women over the years they became acutely aware of the stress ESPERA participants experience in their lives. Mary’s Pence responded by offering a variety of opportunities to women, including: international retreats, weekly audio messages, and local series on emotional wellness and stress reduction. ESPERA women responded positively. One woman replicated some of the work by sending regular audio messages to women in her local group, and several women who attended the local series are interested in leading their own groups. We plan to grow this essential strategy for supporting women’s wellbeing.