Women inspire all of us 365 days a year, but we still need a date to celebrate our existence (and, for some of us, our survival). Despite the significant changes in how we think about women’s equality, we have a long way to go. That’s why International Women’s Day reminds us that, yes, it’s the year 2020, but women are still paid less than our male counterparts and are not present in equal numbers in areas such as business. Besides, compared to men, women face more barriers to have access to education and healthcare, and are more likely to experience gender-based violence.
All these obstacles haven’t discouraged a group of women in Bolivia, where two of our partners are located: Asociación de Floricultoras y Productoras de Hortalizas Achocalla (AFLOPHA) and Asociación Integral de Mujeres Productoras de Chacoma (AIMPACHA). These food producers are led mostly by women, so we’re profiling one representative of each association in anticipation of International Women’s Day. Today, you’ll meet the president and founder of AFLOPHA, Encarnación Fernández.
AFLOPHA is led by a group of Aymara women, indigenous people from the Andean region. They get together, discuss their needs, agree on what’s best for the group and make decisions about how to grow and sell their products. “I feel joy when I’m working with other sisters,” says Encarnación, who’s considered a pioneer in food production in Bolivia. “Economically, we’re stronger together.”
Founded in 2005 in the municipality of Achocalla, AFLOPHA produces flowers and vegetables by working collectively and selling ecological certified products. The work is challenging, as they’re located in the area known as Altiplano, an extensive area of high plateau and desert-polar climate. Producers had to learn how to best grow food to avoid losses. They received training and seed capital from Community Evolution Foundation to buy equipment and build greenhouses.
“I’ve been working with veggies my whole life because my grandpa had taught me how to grow crops in the open field,” says Encarnación, who has her husband and two of her kids participating in the association. But, in the Altiplano, the conventional method of cultivation isn’t always the best choice. With the adverse weather conditions, they could lose their harvest, so they have to be resourceful. “At AFLOPHA I’ve learned more techniques to work the land, including how to grow food in greenhouses.”
The most important learnings, however, have come from her relationships. Some of the reasons why Encarnación founded AFLOPHA were her passion for growing food and interest in helping obtain funds to advance projects. She also wanted to inspire other women to work outside their houses. “Mutual support is everything in the work we do,” she says.
Mutual support also applies to life, as women have to deal with the double burden — the work outside the house to earn money and the responsibility for unpaid domestic labour. On average, the president of AFLOPHA works two days a week at home, two days at the association or doing field visits and the other three days selling products. “When do you get some rest?” I ask her. “I don’t,” she responds.
Like in most countries, gender equality is an issue in Bolivia, but this reality doesn’t shy her away from taking the lead. “Women can overcome suffering and do everything we want to do because who’s going to say that we can’t?” Encarnación asks. She believes we all have the responsibility to ensure that each woman in the world has her voice heard and her rights respected.
“I know there are many women like me everywhere who are motivated to get ahead,” says the president of AFLOPHA. As a mother of seven, her main concern is her kids. “I want to give them a better life.” But she reminds us that women have every right to move further in life, besides being mothers.
Tomorrow you’ll meet Elsa Choque, past president and member of Aimpacha.