Empowering Women

Mama Tierra
empowersWayuu Women

From the very beginning, the Mama Tierra team has partnered with Wayuu women from northern Colombia and Venezuela as the best strategy to empower their whole society. The focus is on women because they ensure the well-being of the family, securing an income and educating the children.

The woman is the strongest link in many indigenous societies, but this is particularly true in the Wayuu culture, as they have a matrilineal kinship structure.

What is Matrilineality?

This means that each person, for example in the Wayuu society, is identified with their matriline – their mother's ascendent lineage. Consequently, matrilineality involves the inheritance of the mother’s last name or properties from the mother’s side. Thus, in a matrilineal descent system, an individual considers themself to belong to the same descent group as their mother. This matrilineal descent pattern contrasts with the Eurocentric patrilineal descent model, in which last names are inherited from the father, for example.

As for 2015 the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights reported that nearly 5000 Wayuu children have died from preventable causes between 2012 and 2015.

What are the issues Wayuu people face?

The Wayuu struggle for survival. The reasons for this are lack of access to clean drinking water, pollution and inflation.

La Guajira area presents the highest index of malnutrition in Colombia, showing a 2.25 times higher risk of childhood mortality due to malnutrition and preventable diseases. As for 2015 the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights reported that nearly 5000 Wayuu children have died from preventable causes between 2012 and 2015.

In fact, 1.9% of the Colombian population lives in La Guajira, but the department registers more than 20% of deaths due to malnutrition in children under 5 years of age.

Other issues include water scarcity, desertification, pollution, inflation especially from Venezuela, alcoholism, limited access to education and job opportunities. A serious issue Wayuu people face is the pollution of the biggest open sky coal mine in Latin America; El Cerrejon. This mine is run by Glencore in Baar among other companies. In 2012, a BBC investigation uncovered sale documents showing the company had paid the associates of paramilitary killers in Colombia. The mine forced expropriations and evacuations of entire villages to enable mine expansion. A representative of the local Wayuu described this aggression as a "massacre".

Closing the gender gap

Since the production of crafts is one of the few financial activities that women in La Guajira have available, it was clear for the Mama Tierra board, that an NGO like Mama Tierra, must offer an ethical trade. Indigenous peoples should be able to earn a living in their own cultural context rather than working in mines, factories or households in the city. Not to mention smuggling, a very common and dangerous activity done by many Wayuu.

Unfortunately, the lack of capital, remote location and great need in general are big market barriers for the Wayuu women, ending up earning 2 USD per bag, an average 50 Cent per day if the bag was made in 4 days. This is equivalent to earning 20 Cents per day if the bag is made in 5 days, which is usually not the case, it requires at least 7 days. In addition, the materials used in the crafting of the bag are not even covered by the meager pay. This makes the Wayuu women abandon their craft, deeming it as “not worth the effort”, as many have said.

Because gender equality is a basic human right

Mama Tierra empowers indigenous women by producing, distributing and researching about their crafts, aiming to support their financial independence.

We help indigenous women to determine their own choices by being economically independent.

Opening routes for the Wayuu Women

The elaboration of crafts is an important social practice in the Wayuu society. During a rite of passage when a girl menstruates for the first time, her female relatives will provide an integral education on how to become a woman. A special emphasis is put on acquiring weaving skills during this time. Weaving skills are taught to prepare women to be economically self-sufficient, since in general, the Wayuu woman is brought up to be independent. From an early age, she is equipped with the tool to prepare herself for all situations, including the possibility that her husband tums out to be irresponsible. The elaboration of crafts is therefore paramount in the Wayuu society. Mama Tierra values this tradition and aims to protect, foster and promote it.

How Mama Tierra
empowersWayuu Women

  • 1

    Provides living wages.

  • 2

    All supplies are made available to the women.

  • 3

    Training courses to improve or to learn handicraft techniques.

  • 4

    Working from home allows artisans to take care of their children and livestock.

  • 5

    Maternity leaves and paid medical assistance in case of illness.

  • 6

    Fundraising and implementing social projects for their main issues, such as lack of school supplies, access to water and food, among others.

  • 7

    Mama Tierra is in constant communication with the artisans. In this way the issues are addressed promptly.

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