Women’s Cattle Cooperative: The Mujeres Ganaderas
The Cooperative Association for Provisions, Savings, Credit and Consumption of Women of the Bajo Lempa “Marta Gonzalez,” known as the Mujeres Ganaderas, is a truly inspirational women’s cooperative made up of nearly 300 associates from 15 communities in the Bajo Lempa region. SHARE has supported this women’s cooperative since 2000 with technical and legal assistance and funds for microcredit and women’s leadership formation. In response to changes in the market for cattle, SHARE is currently supporting a microcredit project that will help some members of the cooperative diversify in pig production.
The Mujeres Ganaderas are a wonderful example of how women earning and controlling their own money can be a major step to full empowerment. As one member of the cooperative explained, “My husband helps me to take care of the cows and he does a good job of it, but I do the buying and selling – the cows are mine.”
Meet Dinora Yanet Cruz Vazquez, a leader with the Mujeres Ganaderas since 2001!
Watch this inspirational video about the Mujeres Ganaderas!
Their unique door to door visits and democratic decision making as well as trainings in cattle management and gender issues combine to keep the credit recuperation rate at nearly 100%.
- Low-interest loans to women associates for cattle and other animals;
- Technical and veterinarian support for women cattle ranchers, including home visits by women promoters trained to diagnose diseases and carry out vaccination campaigns;
- A small store that stocks basic goods and agricultural products. This benefits people from all communities in the area by saving the expensive transportation costs to the larger cities and providing profits for all members of the cooperative; and,
- Workshops and training on being a member of a cooperative, animal care and disease prevention, marketing and sales, gender and women’s rights, leadership, and literacy circles.
To become associates, women first attend a workshop on what it means to be a member of a cooperative. Members of the cooperative can then apply for a low-interest loan. The application is received and reviewed by the loan committee, which is made up of five elected representatives. Once approved, women are asked to provide a guarantee on their loan and commit to participating in gender workshops and technical training. Associates are required not only to pay back their loan in a timely manner, but also to save on a monthly basis. This saving becomes a part of the cooperative’s overall capital.
Associates meet in small committees in their communities on a monthly basis to share their achievements and difficulties and to support each other in problem solving. Each community has a representative that communicates between the cooperative and the committee, and who supports her community in leadership workshops and gender awareness. An especially important part of these meetings is building self-esteem and awareness of women’s rights.
History of the Mujeres Ganaderas
When the armed conflict ended, families that returned to the Bajo Lempa from refugee camps arrived with almost nothing; tarps to sleep under and the clothes on their backs. There were no schools, no clinics, nothing. As families began to settle in the different communities in the region, people began to ask themselves: “What will we do now? How will we survive?”
This is when the first group of women came together to organize and seek alternative incomes for their families. Meeting under a mango tree, some of these women decided to start a small, collective cattle initiative. For the first few years, the women worked under a formal cooperative that demanded high interest rates, strict credit requirements, and little flexibility in repayment. In addition to these difficulties, women faced a great deal of gender discrimination in their homes and communities; husbands or life partners would take the loan and administer it themselves or prevent women from participating in community organizing activities.
In the year 2000, a group of representatives came to SHARE to ask for support in developing and legalizing their own independent cooperative, which would open doors for outside financing, as well as funds for small loans, training, and gender workshops. The group of women had an incredibly clear vision of the work that they wanted to do and what they wanted their cooperative to look like. Their problem was in putting the project on paper; the women did not know how to read or write. SHARE was fundamental to the formation of this rural women’s cooperative, in formulating goals and activities and providing the training, technical support, and literacy workshops to formalize and legalize their work.