Before coming to Ecuador, I was obviously passionate about issues of gender inequality and sexism. Once arriving in this area and learning more about the culture of machismo and the numerous effects it can have on females, some of the Manna Program Directors felt like we wanted to do something to work with these issues. While we clearly cannot solve or end the issues of machismo ourselves, we tried to explore what we can do and what services we can provide. Beginning MPI Ecuador's Women's Initiative in January has been an exciting albeit rocky process.
Firstly, we began working with a local partner organization that houses young and single mothers. We began by going weekly and tutoring. This was sometimes successful - sometimes not. My sixth grade math skills were not very impressive in English and definitely not very useful in Spanish. So we began to bring fun activities in addition to tutoring help.
Making smoothies, Earth Day cookies and painting pottery has allowed us to spend some quality time with these young women in a social and stress-free environment. While it is not as measurably productive as homework help, the girls seem to really enjoy it (although they are sometimes confused as to why there is a tall white woman telling them to make a vase out of homemade clay).
Additionally, we began a series of discussions for women in our community center. Unfortunately at first, there was very low attendance. We are now trying a new strategy: adding a weekly fun activity into the mix. For our first "club" today, I left the house feeling tired and doubtful about our cooking night. At four o'clock, I sat with my co-worker, Kate McCaw (more commonly known as Kate the Great) and lamented that no one had shown up. Maybe we didn't advertise enough? Or maybe no one was interested? But in true Ecuadorian fashion, a woman did show up 15 minutes late. And then another. And then another! We all prepared delicious Mexican food and chatted. I was feeling awkward about bridging the conversation from guacamole into issues of gender inequality but the ladies brought it up themselves.
Excited to discuss their experiences and opinions on machismo, we sat talking (and eating tacos, of course) for over an hour. It felt exactly as we had hoped (a feeling that can be rare in the community development world!) The women connected, had fun and were so open to sharing their thoughts. While we can't "fix" the culture of machismo - we found that we can provide a fun outlet for a group of teen mothers, we can provide a space to talk about issues for local women and we can (and did) make delicious guacamole dip. Although we are still figuring this program out, we are so excited to see were Manna's new Women's initiative goes!