Visionarias – Empowering Women for Change [Article]

This article originally appeared in Amaray, a magazine developed by the Energising Development Project EnDev-GIZ Peru (www.endevperu.org). It is a publication that promotes opportunities to improve the access to energy, especially in rural and isolated areas. Amaray contains information that present a variety of actions from private and public sectors, international cooperation initiatives, interviews with experts, a photographic and art portfolio, as well as other articles and stories.

By Visionaria Network Regional Manager, Paola Saldivias Mendez, and Executive Director, Paul Spurzem. 

[versión español]

Since 2013, new training programs and educational resources have been developed for both female energy entrepreneurs and students to focus their visions, set smart goals, and strengthen their ability to overcome negative thoughts. This process has powerful implications for personal and career success.

Empowerment Resources for the Energy Sector

We know that women play critical roles in scaling the adoption of clean cookstoves, fuels, and other energy products used in the home. Women make household decisions and are typically the primary cookers, yet their input is surprisingly absent from many efforts to promote the use of cleaner stoves and household energy products.

In 2013, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) published a “resource guide on scaling adoption of clean cooking solutions,” including case studies that illustrated how women strengthen the value chains of clean cookstove companies (in their design, manufacture, sales, distribution, and after-sales service).

However, women still face unique constraints and challenges. They tend to suffer from unequal access to education, unequal economic opportunities, and unequal pay, which inhibits their aspirations and abilities to reach their personal and professional goals.

In response to the socio-emotional challenges faced by female entrepreneurs in the clean cookstove sector, the GACC developed another tool: the “Empowered Entrepreneur Training Handbook”. This training handbook includes “empowerment” and “leadership” activities in addition to traditional business topics, to enhance the effectiveness of female entrepreneurs and sales agents in the energy sector.

Empowerment and leadership lessons are not only good for adult workers and entrepreneurs, but also for students who want to have a say in their future, and the future of their communities.

Empowerment Resources for Students (as energy partners)

Recognizing students as our next generation of leaders, it is important that they are aware of their energy options, and other decisions being made today that impact the future of their communities and the world.

Since 2013, GiZ and EnDev Peru have partnered with the Peruvian Ministry of Education to do just that. They have developed the “Amigas y Amigos de la Energía” curriculum for students at the primary school level. The curriculum explores the concepts and sources of energy, promoting team work and different project experiences.

There is a great opportunity for youth to help design more effective development solutions, and for professionals to provide students with real-world project experiences that solidify new socio-emotional and professional skills.

Visionaria Network, an international non-profit organization from the U.S., has partnered with educators and NGOs in the Cusco region of Peru to introduce an educational curriculum[1] using similar empowerment and leadership lessons for youth.

Instead of setting goals related to their work or business, Visionarias (Visionaria program participants) are encouraged to set visions and goals around various areas of their lives – such as their studies, careers, family, and community. Participants learn about local and global challenges through lessons about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals[2]. Then, building from their visions and new knowledge, Visionarias design and implement a sustainable development project, in collaboration with local NGOs, government actors, and other community stakeholders. Through this process they put into practice and solidify the empowerment and leadership lessons learned, while being recognized as leaders and change makers in their communities.

A place for Men in “Women’s Empowerment”

It’s not uncommon for girl participants to arrive at the question, “why not include boys and men in activities to change the situation for women, seeing that men are an important part of the solutions, and not just the problem?” And this is exactly what we want them to think.

Visionaria programs focus on girls, but they do not exclude men or boys. When working through “Sex and Gender” activities with female clean cooking entrepreneurs and students in Peru, Visionaria Network’s Master Facilitator, Paola Saldivias, explains the importance of promoting a nature of cooperation:

It’s not uncommon for girl participants to arrive at the question, “why not include boys and men in activities to change the situation for women, seeing that men are an important part of the solutions, and not just the problem?” And this is exactly what we want them to think.

Visionaria programs aim to provide safe spaces for young women to find and express their voice, in a way that does not negatively portray the opposite sex or perpetuate inequalities.  Monitoring the changes in relations between men and women, the Gender Impacts, have become a critical focus in development efforts, recognizing that women and men are both affected by any social action.

If we want to improve the conditions of women, we cannot exclude men from the process. Approaches that engage men and acknowledge the importance of their role in transforming our societies are promising – both in general, and particularly in the energy and development sectors.

Shared Visions

By supporting women and girls to develop and share their visions, and equipping them with tools and support mechanisms to achieve them, they are empowered to control their destiny, transform gender norms, and to accelerate progress in in our communities and industries.

Be careful not to miss resources and opportunities to support those “Visionarias” in your life and work – Visionarias have dreams for their future and plan for success with creativity and confidence.

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[1] Visit visionarianetwork.org or e-mail contact@visionarianetwork.org to learn more about the Visionaria Curriculum and/or request a copy.

[2] Read more about the Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/en/sustainable-development-goals/

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