In Guatemala women are smiling

Today Lucia* smiles. And so do the other women in her group. This young girl, who before joining was so introverted and silent, is now interacting with her peers and slowly blossoming.

Lucia’s story is similar to many of the other girls in the rural community in Western Guatemala. Lucia’s family cannot afford to pay for all their children to study, and decide to invest only in the education of their son. Lucia is then forced to quit school after the sixth class. She can’t speak Spanish fluently and she has difficulties reading. She got married at 17 and her husband became abusive later in their marriage.

Like many young people in her community who are unable to go to school, the chance to find decent employment is very low and so are the opportunities to enjoy economic independence. A mother of a son with an abusive husband, Lucia wanted to escape.

Y’abal handicrafts

Her life has changed since she joined Y’abal Handicrafts, a weaving cooperative guaranteed by the World Fair Trade Organization. Y’abal is committed to support women from indigenous communities in Guatemala by providing them with employment opportunities and¸ especially, by financing social programs for them.

Now, Lucia has her own income, lives independently and is making decisions for herself. She is a weaver and she is proud of herself.

Working at a Fair Trade cooperative means much more to Lucia than earning a monthly income. Y’abal Handicrafts is one of the Fair Trade enterprises that reinvests their profit into innovations to benefit their workers and their broader rural communities.

Lucia and the other women from her group take part in social programs tailored by the cooperative to provide them with capacity building training to become future entrepreneurs. These programs give them the means to take up leadership positions and start their own business. Lucia learns about subjects like accounting and budgeting and she is now a proactive worker, aware of the mechanisms that lie behind commercial activity.

Y’abal is one of the Guatemalan Fair Trade enterprises that are committed to supporting indigenous women in rural communities. Supporting indigenous women as their social mission has also promoted the communities’ traditions and culture. For instance, fostering weaving as a main source of livelihood for the women has led to the appreciation of the back-strap loom as a weaving technique. Back-strap loom weaving has been practiced by indigenous women of Central and South America for millennia.

Maya Traditions

Like Y’abal, Maya Traditions Foundation is another Guatemalan social enterprise whose mission is to ensure access to local and international market to women weavers of the region. A Guaranteed Member of WFTO, the Foundation provides livelihoods to more than 120 artisans and allows their traditional art to be appreciated worldwide and their back-strap loom weaving technique to survive over the years.

Very few of these women had the opportunity to receive an education in the past. Today, thanks to Fair Trade, they are taking part in literacy workshops and basic business classes and receiving support in the management of their financial resources.  Maya Traditions Foundation has designed special social programs for its indigenous artisans to help them achieve their full potential as skilled workers and as independent women.

For the indigenous women workers of Guatemala, Fair Trade means being able to smile. And this is one of the reasons Fair Trade is innovating. To make women like Lucia smile.

By Chiara Lotteri

*Not her real name to protect her identity