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Why Invest in Women?

The following was written by Katherine Zavala, Thousand Currents’ current Regional Director for Latin America and former Program Manager of Grassroots Alliances, after her site visit to Mexico.

I’ve just returned from Hidalgo, Mexico and I’m reflecting on my visit with the incredible indigenous women I met through Thousand Currents partner Ñepi Behña.

Ñepi Behña (“Women with Dignity” in the indigenous otomi language) was founded to support indigenous women who live in the Valle de Mezquital area of Hidalgo.

Valle de Mezquital is heavily populated by women as many husbands migrate to the U.S. Many women here have been organizing to build and strengthen economic avenues in a town with few employment opportunities.

Some of the women run their own cooperative called Ya Muntsi Behña (“Women United”), which works with The Body Shop.

The story of how the cooperative started working with The Body Shop is interesting:

Over ten years ago, The Body Shop met the women from Valle de Mezquital and saw all the products the women could create out of agave fibers, a natural resource that was locally cultivated.

The indigenous women were using agave fibers for everything: clothes, curtains, for carrying babies, decoration, etc.

The Body Shop saw great potential in the women and in this environmental-friendly material to create bath sponges.

Today, these sponges are now sold in 2,000 of their stores around the world.

Since forming the cooperative, the women members have created innovative ways to ensure that they make the most out of their cooperative – like starting saving groups where women could save the income being generated through their work.

Recently, the women have decided to diversify their portfolio and are pioneering a women-led movement to promote a fair trade market not only abroad but domestically within Mexico.

With support from Ñepi Behña , they have connected with women artisans from all over Mexico – Puebla, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Chiapas – to sell their environmental-friendly and fair trade products.

My main takeaway from my visit with the cooperative: investing in women snowballs into positive outcomes for entire communities.

At first, when the women started the cooperative, it was very difficult for many men to get used to this idea, as they wouldn’t give permission to women to even leave the house.

Over the years, through the strength of the cooperative and the gender equality workshops that Ñepi Behña has facilitated, women are recognized as economic providers and men’s’ attitudes are changing.

Now, with the recession still going strong in the U.S., men have had to come back to the communities and with no employment opportunities, they are now assisting the women in creating their products. Women are increasingly occupying the role of decision-makers within the communities.

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