Thursday, May 26, 2022


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I'm so sorry not to hear more from Maria.  And Maria, I just want to thank you for everything Cargill is doing to support women, and really, we'd love to hear more of your own personal story.  So I think you did a wonderful job reminding us that when women are given even the smallest opportunity, if there's a crack in the door or the door is thrown open, and that's what you've done personally.  And it's just great to have you part of this.  

Thanks, Ryan, for kicking us off today and for moderating the discussion.  I know we have a lot to get through and so I'm grateful to be a part of this effort.  

Thanks to Jamille, USAID's Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, not only for her words today, but of course, for her leadership every day.  

It is great to be with you all as USAID and our partners take another step in advancing gender equality. And I look forward to celebrating the innovative work of the women here today.  I want to underscore the urgency and necessity of these women's work, especially at this moment in history. Because, as we all know, after years of hard fought progress, women around the world are being further subjugated into second class citizens right here, right now.  The COVID-19 pandemic took the hardest toll on women, especially women of color.  In nearly every country, women were the first to leave the workplace, either to take care of their kids or as a result of layoffs.  Millions of young girls left school and many will never return.  

Economic disruptions destroyed women-owned businesses and systemic inequities locked women out of financial markets and restricted their access to capital. Young girls across Afghanistan are denied the right to attend school, while women are now forced to cover their faces in public and restricted from traveling long distances without a male escort.  

And as Putin's war rages on in Ukraine, women and children fleeing are at a heightened risk of gender-based violence and human trafficking.  Those who have elected to stay in Ukraine face horrifying atrocities as women are being taken from their homes and raped and beaten by Russian soldiers.  

It is a pattern women in the northern and Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are heartbreakingly aware of as they grapple with the world's highest femicide rates.  In El Salvador, for example, a man murders a woman nearly every 24 hours.  

Oppressive social norms have made abuse and sexual violence a constant threat.  And men who commit these crimes often go unpunished. Throughout the region, 67 percent of women say they've been abused at least once in their lifetime, and more than 45 percent report having been abused within the last 12 months.  

Oppressed populations, including indigenous women and LGBTQI+ persons, experience disproportionate rates of gender-based violence. Many women in northern and Central America face such a terrifying reality that they will risk their safety and their lives to trudge hundreds of miles through deserts and over mountains just to reach the U.S. and potentially receive asylum.  

Women are fighting a constant and exhausting battle for basic rights, but as we have seen so many times throughout history, women are not backing down.  Instead, they are spearheading efforts to overcome this reality and to empower women in their communities. For example, joining us today is Edna Figueroa. At the age of just 22, Edna Figueroa serves as the national flower of the Mayan people representing Mayan culture and heritage in Guatemala.  In her hometown of Cobán, Guatemala, Edna works at the New Sun Road's Community Center, where she helps women learn to use technology and gain valuable digital literacy. Edna integrates the Mayan language Qʼeqchi into educational materials so indigenous women can take advantage of these centers. And because of her work, indigenous women are connecting to the digital world, allowing them to seek opportunities outside the home and break conventional social norms.  

Community centers like these are located throughout rural Guatemala, supported by USAID in partnership with Microsoft.  Each center is solar-powered, equipped with Internet access, and primed to provide women access to technology. USAID is committed to supporting similar initiatives alongside the private sector. Some of our greatest returns on foreign investments come when we invest in women.  

Women who are safe, able to access resources like basic food, education, and shelter, and provided with greater economic opportunities are more likely to remain in their communities and engage with civil society to drive change. That's why USAID launched the MujerProspera Challenge. WomanProsper is aimed at advancing gender equality in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador by providing partners with grants from a $5 million portfolio to develop holistic solutions that advance women's economic security, employment, and entrepreneurship.  

After reviewing nearly 400 applications, today I'm pleased to announce the nine recipients of the MujerProspera grants. These partners were selected because of their ability to promote safety and encourage agency among women while providing adequate resources and engendering stable, long-term income and labor protections. Each effort is going to include support from the private sector, and as we work to make development more inclusive, seven of the nine recipients are local partners who already live and work in these communities.

In Guatemala, the Asociación De Desarrollo Productivo y de Servicios Tikonel will strengthen the ability of indigenous women producers of oyster mushrooms to increase their yields through technical skill building and market connections.  

Also in Guatemala, the local Office of Justice Education Society of British Columbia will collaborate with the Survivor's Foundation to build on an evidence-based approach to economic development for 300 women survivors of gender-based violence. We will continue to support the New Sun Road in Guatemala, and they will partner with Ixtatán Foundation to provide up to 1,000 indigenous rural women in the Western Highlands with expanded access to Internet-enabled and solar power community centers just like the one Edna works at.  

We also have unique regional approaches working across all three countries to address gender norms that are acting as a barrier to women's engagement in agriculture. Universidad Zamorano will work with more than 1,500 women farmers and producers, as well as over 30 private sector organizations to enhance women's agency in the workplace.  

The Fundación Empresarial para la Acción Social will work with 400 women to strengthen their agency and entrepreneurial skills, supporting 200 small- and medium-sized businesses and 60 companies to promote a safe work environment, creating new jobs and small businesses.

In El Salvador, the women-led Asociación Muchas Mas will work to close the digital literacy gap and enhance economic opportunities in the information technology sector. These opportunities are aimed at reducing the likelihood of migration for young women between the ages of 12 and 25.  

In Honduras, the Cohonducafé Foundation will partner with 30 women coffee growers across three municipalities to establish a newly minted brand of coffee, to establish stable income, and increase earning capacity.

In Honduras, the Grameen Foundation will engage 200 food insecure women and their partners in indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to shift gender norms and power dynamics through a proven approach of engaging spouses and partners in dialogues to champion women's business models, growth, access to credit and financial services, and more equitable sharing of household responsibilities.  

And finally, in both Guatemala and Honduras, the Cooperative For Assistance and Relief Everywhere will work with financial partner Cargill to support 500 women food producers to increase their economic security.  Each partner's approach is aimed at rooting out systemic discrimination and addressing the needs of women and girls, particularly those from marginalized and underserved populations.  

The cohort of MujerProspera award recipients will assist women who are already doing the work in their communities.  Even before we launch this Challenge, women across the region, it is no secret we're standing up and creating environments around them that defy traditional norms.  Their leadership will address the issues in communities that are forcing so many to risk their lives and flee north. They can help save countless lives, and they can change the fortunes of women throughout Northern and Central America who have faced violence and oppression for years.  

I just want to offer my hearty, personal congratulations to our nine award recipients, and thank you for all the work that you are doing is totally inspiring to us. We want to see it replicated all around the world and really look forward to working with you and to our continued collaboration in the future.  

Thank you so much. 

Samantha Power
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