III. Gender equality, women’s empowerment and social inclusion

Women’s empowerment through indigenous social enterprises in Latin America

Abstract

This chapter explores innovative enabler mechanisms for women’s empowerment in social enterprises and how they promote gender equality and community well-being. For this purpose, three social enterprises located in indigenous rural communities in Mexico, Peru and Guatemala are analyzed following an inductive approach and qualitative methods. With the use of in-depth interviews, observation and analysis of secondary data, the three cases show different levels of women’s empowerment and gender equality, probably as a result of the particular mechanisms each has designed to achieve this purpose. The male-dominated culture in each community has partially prevented women’s participation in productive entities and decision-making. However, empowerment mechanisms such as access to decent job opportunities, gender equality policies, training and promotion and governance based on local values have had a dignifying effect on indigenous women, establishing a sense of self-worth and self-respect in them. This has also reduced structural discrimination against indigenous women in terms of education, decision-making and access to employment. The three cases also represent examples of how various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as no poverty (SDG #1), well-being (SDG #3), gender equality (SDG #5), decent work (SDG #8), reduced inequalities (SDG #10) and sustainable communities (SDG #11), are interrelated and interconnected.

Introduction

Most countries in Latin America have policies and strategies to promote gender equality; however, women in this region still struggle to have access to the opportunities that most men have. The resulting gap is more notorious in indigenous communities, where male-dominated patterns are deeply embedded in their culture. Although public policies and developmental activities have intended to target women in order to have a stronger impact in the household (women usually spend a higher percentage of their income on their children’s well-being), the results have been, in most cases, limited or even discouraging (Collier, 2007).

Even more, the budget restrictions that governments in the region are currently facing sometimes end up defunding these programs. Under such a scenario, entrepreneurship presents itself as a sustainable alternative to promote women’s well-being and one of the best strategies to empower women and elevate them to equal status with men (Coughlin and Thomas, 2002). Although female participation in the workplace contributes to a more egalitarian society, barriers still prevent women from participating in commercial entities (Avolio and Di Laura, 2017). These barriers include lack of flexible work arrangements, limited access to resources, lack of training and experience, cultural patterns and personal barriers regarding family and children care (e.g., Mattis, 2004; Lockyer and George, 2012; Nguyen et al., 2014).

The objective of the chapter is to explore innovative enabler mechanisms for women’s empowerment in social enterprises and how they promote gender equality and community well-being. For this purpose, three social enterprises located in indigenous rural communities in Mexico, Peru and Guatemala are analyzed using an inductive approach and qualitative methods.

Social entrepreneurship and women's empowerment

Entrepreneurship has many forms and objectives from profit-maximizing entities to social-purpose enterprises that seek to solve a social need. In this sense, social enterprises, which usually emerge from local contexts, can be created for the specific purpose of promoting women’s well-being or achieving this as a result of the empowering mechanisms they create (Yunus, 2010). Social enterprises “can sustain the empowerment of the weakest social sectors like Indigenous women, who suffer a condition of double discrimination [being a woman, and being an Indigenous person]” (Giovannini, 2012: 292).

Women’s empowerment means creating the conditions for women to be able to make choices, which implies that women may not only have different preferences than men but also different abilities to make choices due to gender inequalities in bargaining power and access to resources (Independent Evaluation Group, 2016). In this sense, the empowerment of marginalized individuals or disadvantaged groups outside and inside the organizational boundaries seems to be one of the main characteristics of social entrepreneurship, which differentiates it from other fields (Levander, 2010; Vâzquez-Maguirre et al., 2018). This implies that social enterprises usually create mechanisms and tools that both reduce the stakeholders’ dependencies on the organization and increase the stakeholders’ abilities to contribute to the solution and to their own welfare (Santos, 2012), which includes the creation of novel organizational arrangements (Jensen, 2017).

 
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