On Wednesday, March 8 this week, we will be celebrating International Women’s Day around the world; however, the Madison celebration is today, March 4.
Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace was challenged to “be bold for change,” as part of the IWD 2017 theme. Those who create change have to be empowered and emboldened to do what they believe is right. In our case, being ethical and socially responsible can be a bold act, especially when the harms of fast fashion are often overlooked and a company’s social responsibility can be diluted and under prioritized.
With passion to inspire change, I wanted to share a story of being bold for change.
Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace and our first partnership, Sumak Muyo (based out of La Calera, Ecuador), are a primary example of being bold for change.
Flora Yepez is the leader of the organization and who I want to highlight as an inspiration of a woman who is bold for change. Flora is a leader in the indigenous community, La Calera, poised three hours outside of Quito and nestled between two parental mountains, La Calera (the mother) and Imbabura (the father). In the La Calera community’s culture, the women are responsible for the cooking, cleaning and childrearing, very rarely do they deal with financial matters for their home.
Flora is different though. She started her adulthood as a passionate advocate for women’s rights, quickly rising to the ranks in a medical brigade through the health ministry in her younger years. Her supervisors questioned her success and challenged her ambitions, but eventually she was assigned to work in another indigenous community.
She mentioned that she was assigned to one of the toughest villages because they had some of the fewest resources and were severely lacking public health education and outreach, especially for women. Flora, however, had a secret way to garner trust in the new community. She gained acceptance in the community by meeting with just the women and talking to them. She would hold women-only meetings to develop a rapport with so many of the people who had gone voiceless in the community. She began to work to empower them to have their own voices to work to combat domestic abuse and talked about sexual health.
Women trust other women. She talked about how the women talked to their husbands and brothers so that the community leaders started taking her more seriously and listening to the information she was sent to share.
She spoke about how she was able to have some fun in her role too. She recalled with a smile on her face one Christmas season where she put condoms on a tree to normalize and familiarize the community with condoms in a whimsical way that would get people talking.
Even Flora, however, struggled to be positive at times. When she moved back to La Calera, she struggled to have the presence and role that she wanted. She talked about how another woman, Monica, supported her through so much.
Monica and Flora would have long conversations about how to promote women’s rights and community development efforts in La Calera, but they would also talk about their own personal struggles. Their friendship grew strong, which is exemplified when Flora had a girl and named her after her friend, Monica.
Many years have now passed and Flora’s daughter Monica now has two children of her own. Monica has moved out of her mother’s house and into a new home in Quito. Flora’s boldness to inspire change; however, has not changed over the years.
She now proudly serves as the leader of Sumak Muyo, a small business that sells jewelry made from natural palm tree seeds. The group uses its profits to provide scholarships for children in La Calera whose parents cannot provide for them. Their business came about when municipal funding disappeared for the community development efforts that the women wanted to complete. The women knew that their projects were worthwhile and needed in the community, especially after creating a successful kindergarten and daycare center, but the community no longer had money to give for their projects, despite them asking.
Flora and the other women of Sumak Muyo are passionate advocates for women’s rights. They constantly strive to end domestic violence in their community and have made a metaphorical space at the table for women in their community, most obvious during their community meetings. In La Calera, the community now turns to the women of Sumak Muyo for their expertise and financial status.
Happy International Women’s Day to women everywhere and never forget to be bold for change.