International Women’s Day embraces the idea that equality is not a women’s issue, but a business issue because gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive. Community Evolution Foundation believes in the power of communities to create positive social impact in the world, so we’re celebrating March 8 by profiling female food producers in Bolivia, where two of our partners are located. Yesterday, you met Encarnación Fernández from AFLOPHA. Today, you’ll meet Elsa Choque, past president and member of Asociación Integral de Mujeres Productoras de Chacoma (AIMPACHA).
“Since associations like ours have been founded, women have become more skilled,” says Elsa, who joined AIMPACHA in December 2018 and immediately became its president. The association was founded in 2015 to improve the quality of life of its members — mostly women — by selling veggies, crafts and milk. They received support from CEF, who connected them with other producers using greenhouses (for example, AFLOPHA) to help them learn more about this cultivation technique and related operations. They also received training on business skills, and financial assistance to buy equipment and build greenhouses.
Elsa’s quick move from a member to the president role is an example of her leadership skills. Her eagerness to succeed had deep motivations. “I wasn’t treated the way I deserved in my marriage, was stressed out at home and wanted to join the association to be among other sisters, share information and gain more skills,” she says, now financially independent and raising her six kids alone. “They’re all in school, and support me more than a husband would.”
While president of AIMPACHA, Elsa became familiar with an organization that groups more than 20 producers associations in the municipality of Viacha. She started attending their meetings to network and exchange knowledge. A born-leader. Before joining AIMPACHA, she had no experience growing vegetables or doing what she’d need to do, but she didn’t feel intimidated. “I’ve learned how to buy the products we needed, even for construction work,” she says, as an example.
Elsa’s biggest motivation is to change lives. That’s why she encourages female members to become more skilled in the areas where they work. “Women here tend to be shy even to answer other people’s questions,” she says. But, recently, more and more women have received training, according to her. “We can read. We can write. We have work experience. But we still suffer more than men, and work more as well.”
Her routine is heavy. Elsa usually wakes up at 5am, cooks for her kids, takes them to school, cleans the house, does the laundry and goes to the association’s meetings or sells their products. To have quality time with her kids when they’re all home, she ends up going to bed between 10pm and 11pm. Then, a new day starts again. “Everything I do, I do for my kids because I want them to know they can change their lives too,” she says. “I want them to follow my steps.”
Well aware of the challenges faced by women worldwide, Elsa advises women to focus on gaining knowledge in the areas they’re passionate about, and join groups that make them feel stronger. “When we become skilled, we don’t have to go through the difficulties we already faced,” she says.
Elsa adopts the exact approach that International Women’s Day suggests to all of us: “actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.” The message says that, even though individually we’re responsible for our thoughts and actions, “collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world.” In every interaction. Every single day.
Happy Women’s Day!