Virginia, known as Vicki, is a very special woman whom we have had the privilege of getting to know within our program. She lives in a small town in Oaxaca called Barrio Bajo Etla. Vicki is an architect by trade but uses her En Vía micro-loans to invest in her herbal remedy business. Using natural ingredients from the family’s organic garden, she produces soap and herbal balms. She sells her goods at a local market and clients come to her house. Vicki also buys ropa típica, traditional clothing, which she sells in her town. She can often be spotted in Oaxaca city wearing lovely embroidered blouses.
Vicki making soap.
Vicki is clearly a busy lady but she also finds time for her passion: women’s rights. She is part of a small women’s collective here in Oaxaca city. Running since 2007, every Saturday a group of eight women meet to discuss women’s issues and to share personal experiences. They are teachers, artisans, retirees from a wide range of backgrounds but they each share a passion to improve the status of women in Oaxaca.
In 2012, with the support of another women’s organization, the collective initiated a series of workshops for women in different colonias, or suburbs, in Oaxaca city. The goal of the workshops was to help local women to recognize and combat domestic violence in their communities.
The workshops were open to female children, adolescents and adults. The local women heard about the workshops through their networks, as Vicki and her collective have a wide range of contacts throughout Oaxaca city. Popularly attended by these communities, Vicki and her collective discussed various issues. For example, they talked about every woman’s right to live a violence-free life. They also asked the participants their thoughts on questions of identity, emotional health and reproductive rights.
When I was talking with Vicki about one workshop in particular, she proudly described how the workshops became a forum in which women could freely express themselves. It was an emotional experience for them: many cried and each woman had the opportunity to describe her feelings. The women brainstormed on large sheets of paper. Although it was a transformative experience for them, Vicki wryly added that one little girl was more excited to have the chance to draw on such a large piece of paper!
Vicki with Lucía and Carolina, the other members of her En Vía borrowing group.
The wonderful Vicki also works with an isolated Mixe community in the municipality of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, in a village called Santa María Yacochi. There, Vicki teaches local women to make soap but also talks with them about their lives and issues within their community.
Vicki’s collective is particularly unique as they use theater to encourage women to reflect on issues in their community. One play that she and her collective put together presents the life cycle of a woman. It first shows a wedding and then the birth of a baby girl. Instead of celebrating the occasion, her family is sad and fearful for the baby’s future. The play then shows men and women’s different tasks as workers. For example, the girl is sent out to collect coffee beans and to hoe the earth while her brother works with machinery. In the play, the girl does harder work for less money. Once the play was finished, the collective then asked the audience for their impressions. One woman commented, “Women are discriminated against from birth.” The collective then asked the audience how might they change this situation.
Vicki said that the goal of these small theatrical pieces was to open people’s eyes to ingrained customs and traditions in the community, and to make them realize that change was possible. The collective aimed to encourage people to reflect on their lives. The success of their project was evident in the response of one audience member, who commented that she wanted to see the father celebrating and rejoicing in the birth of a daughter.
Last year, the group put on a “Theater of the Oppressed” performance piece demonstrating women’s abortion rights, and then travelled to Guatemala to perform at a festival there. Vicki spoke enthusiastically of this experience, reminiscing about the rare opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas with other theatrical groups who focused on women’s rights.
Through collaborating with the collective and with other women in the community, Vicki is slowly discovering more women-related issues in Oaxaca and at the same time finding creative ways to create awareness. One thing that Vicki has discovered is that in spite of limitations, women in these communities are strong and brave with a unique solidarity of their own.
As a child, Vicki was fortunate in that she had a mother who was a strong role model for her 11 children. Vicki’s mother worked constantly, making cheese to sell and, even though she didn’t finish primary school, she enjoyed reading, something she passed onto her children. Vicki notes that her mother was well-educated for her time as most women didn’t go to primary school at all.
A strong woman! Vicki shows what she’s made of.
We at En Vía are extremely proud of Vicki’s community initiatives. We are delighted to hear about innovative ways in which our borrowers are strengthening their own communities.
By Helen Lyttelton