One of the best ways to fight poverty and inequity is to improve the lives of women and girls, largely because this translates into healthier children and, eventually, wealthier and more stable communities overall.
The Seattle Times‘ Kristi Heim, with photographer Erika Schultz, did a nice job describing a fairly comprehensive and innovative effort by PATH working to improve the lives of Nicaraguan women. When the Sandinistas took control of the country in 1979, many of the leaders said women’s empowerment would be a critical part of the reform planned by the revolutionary government.
Those plans didn’t translate into much meaningful change in this machismo country, as it turned out. In an article for the newspaper’s Pacific Northwest magazine, Heim describes the challenge:
Adolescent pregnancy rates are also high — some of the highest outside Africa. And on average, rural women here have more pregnancies than women in developed countries, making their risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth over the course of their lives seven times greater than it is in the United States. And in rural Nicaragua, where husbands are typically in charge of family decisions, women generally don’t have the choice or the ability to plan when to start having a family or when to stop.
The story focuses to a great extent on PATH’s Nicaragua director Margarita Quintanilla, a woman I met many years ago when I wrote for the Seattle PI about one of their innovative strategies for reaching out to girls and young women with messages of empowerment — soap operas.
As Heim notes, the PATH program has grown in both breadth and scope since then, thanks to funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and partnering with other organizations working in Nicaragua.
Seatte-based Global Partnerships, for example, has been working in Nicaragua for many years providing micro-loans to women. Now, they are partnering with PATH through an organization called Pro Mujer to coordinate the microfinance initiative with programs aimed at providing women with better access to health services, especially emphasizing cervical cancer prevention.