By Caterina Gut
Did you know you can advance women’s rights by eating bread?
The other day I met with the president of a Nicaraguan Women’s Organization and we talked a little bit about their current projects.
I found out that when grabbing some bread or a coffee at the bakery Tonalli in Managua (capital of Nicaragua) shoppers are not only getting a nutritious and healthy snack; they are also supporting women’s rights.
The bakery Tonalli is one of two programs run by ASONICMU (Asociaci ón Nicaragüense Pro-Defensa de la Mujer = Nicaraguan Association for the Defence of Women). All the staff at the bakery except the driver and the security guard are women, most of them single mothers. Working at the bakery provides them with a safe work environment, an income and the opportunity to get socially involved and learn more about women’s issues and empowerment.
The bakery’s income pays the staff salaries and other expenses at the bakery. But not only that – together with some raised funds it also finances a Women’s Centre in Managua which is the second program of ASONICMU.
This Women’s Centre goes by the name “Centro de Mujeres –ISNIN”. In the native language of the Sumo, one of the indigenous people in Nicaragua, “ISNIN” stands for “soul, life and heart”. The “Centro de Mujeres” provides services to support women in analyzing and understanding issues in their lives and taking informed action.
Geared towards women living in poverty, a wide range of services includes legal advice, psychological counseling, gynecological and general health consultations and continuing education and capacity building. Through support, skill building and empowerment the Centre provides the women with tools to decrease stress, deal with difficult situations, oppression and violence.
Since the majority of women who go to the Centre suffer from violence, a special focus of the Centre consists of raising awareness on the effects of gender inequality, discrimination and violence against women. This includes, for instance, information campaigns, educational workshops and also a service to administer safe transfers of maintenance and child support payments for separated and divorced women and families. In a country where this transfer is often not happening by bank transfers but from person to person this is crucial in guaranteeing the safety and economic security of women and children who live separated from their partner and father.
On one day, the Centre receives the payment from the man, and on another day the Centre hands the payment over to the woman, making sure she does not have to jeopardize her safety by seeing her former partner face to face.
Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and around 50% of the population lives in poverty. Women, especially when also part of vulnerable groups such as indigenous, adolescent, senior, and disabled women are more affected by poverty than men.
Nicaraguan women with children often struggle to survive even if they have a job. So often it is necessary for them to live together with a partner who can also contribute to a family income. This is particularly problematic when the woman is suffering from violence through her partner. Economic circumstances prevent a lot of women from leaving abusive relationships.
To eat bread and thus contribute to improving women’s lives in Managua was a great experience. I am looking forward to see what else I can learn from women in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
Caterina, is a Women’s Centre staff member (currently on a travel leave) who is backpacking through South America.