Investing resources and time in the well-being and empowerment of women in the developing world can reduce crime and poverty, and affect other positive changes. This sentiment is championed by Pro Mujer, an organization operating in Latin America that focuses on “women’s development, health and micro-finance social enterprise … essential to breaking the cycle of poverty.” Pro Mujer believes that changes in gender roles increase women’s contributions to local societies and economies. According to Pro Mujer, “[w]omen reinvest [90 percent] of their income into their families to grow businesses, improve their living conditions and provide education and healthcare for their families.”
To help achieve its aims, Pro Mujer offers micro-finance loans to women for business and educational ventures, teaches classes on business and financial literacy, and facilitates violence support groups. It also operates clinics that offer affordable quality healthcare. On a local level, Pro Mujer encourages women to form groups of about 30 and establish a “communal bank.” The women meet in safe places and welcome trustworthy new members, elect their leadership, and support one another.
Communal bank members hold each other accountable for paying their share of the organizational lending. The rest of the group is responsible if one member can’t make a payment. They choose their group leaders and meet on a bi-weekly basis with Pro Mujer representatives at designated neighborhood centers. Pro Mujer loan officers work with each of the women to help them repay their loans and get their business running.
With backing from Microsoft, 13 of these neighborhood centers are communal technology hubs “where clients and their children learn basic computer skills and programs, including word processing, spreadsheets, and how to navigate the Internet.” This, along with the use of social media, is a powerful way to promote local business.
Unfortunately, Mexico has been a nation ravaged by horrific violence over the last several years due to the government crackdown on drugs and crime. Innocent women have been caught up in the crossfire, so the murder rate for women has been rising sharply. A report from Insight Crime states:
“A study carried out by Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women (CONAVIM) showed a correlation between the rise in femicides — used in this case to denote any murder of a woman — and the violence unleashed by the drug trade…between the years 2001 and 2010, the femicide rate grew by over 500 percent in the northeast and around 280 percent in the northwest — corresponding to the states historically most affected by drug-related violence, including Chihuahua, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa and Sonora.”
Crime and the fear of being murdered has pushed women to take up arms in self defense, The Huffington Post reports. Over 100 women have split into about nine groups that help patrol the town of Xaltianguis for the Union of Peoples and Organizations of Guerrero State (UPOEG). The vigilante group has welcomed the women in what is now a growing trend in Mexico of vigilante militias protecting townships against drug related violence.
Pro Mujer is a proverbial diamond in the rough when talking about the role and status of Mexican women. Its fight and vision is gaining support and is backed by hard evidence. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asserts:
“Women with equal rights are better educated, healthier, and have greater access to land, jobs and financial resources. Their increased earning power in turn raises household incomes. By enhancing women’s control over decision-making in the household, gender equality also translates into better prospects and greater well-being of children, reducing poverty of future generations.”
By using community-based micro-finance and providing healthcare, essential classes, and violence support groups, Pro Mujer is helping the women of Mexico actualize their potential in a nation undergoing tremendous social change. Since its initial work began in Tula, Hidalgo, a rural town in Mexico, Pro Mujer has expanded its presence into eight other states and now helps close to 40,000 women.
– David Smith