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Restoring hope in the toughest times

Cash transfers in El Salvador are enabling rural women to tranform their lives and smile more
, Haydee Paguaga
Yoselin is now able to choose what her family eat. Photo: WFP/Alba Amaya

"They have always sold us this model that only men can work, or that only men can improve themselves but this is not the case," says Yoselin. "The biggest difficulty I faced in the countryside was finding a job."

Yoselin lives in Nueva Granada, a village in the Usulután region of El Salvador, where job opportunities are pretty much non-existent.

El Salvador sits on Central America's so-called Dry Corridor — last year, the country of 6.4 million people suffered its longest recorded drought in 48 years. It is a harsh context that is familiar to millions of rural women across the developing world.

Gender challenge

The growing of maize, beans and maicillo, staples of the Salvadoran diet, is widely regarded as a man's job, says Yoselin. Yet families, communities and countries cannot flourish without women, she adds, and the central role they play in progress.

Recognizing this fact underpins the World Food Programme's (WFP) use of cash transfers to assist rural women, who are desperate to earn a living and support their families. Cash assistance strengthens women's roles socially and economically, both in their families and within their communities, with the money used to bring healthy food into homes.

Yoselin and her peers take part in a project run by WFP and EDUCO, a partner NGO. As the effective breadwinners of their families, the women are empowered to play a stronger role in making decisions at home, including those that affect the diets of their loved ones.

Cash assitance strengthens women's ability to make decisions. Photo: WFP/Alba Amaya

They are also able to buy from the shops closest to their homes, providing a boost for the local economy. "The project is really good because it is very difficult for us to find a well-paid job," says Yoselin.

Many men welcome such empowerment. Héctor Lizama, from a community neighbouring Yoselin's, says: "Women are as essential in the home as they are in the life of the local community. Things go forward when we see that women and men have the same rights."

"We do not find excuses, we just fight and move forward"

In her smile one can discern the happiness, hope and empowerment Yoselin feels at receiving this financial support and the power it gives her to take up projects that benefit the wider community.

Yoselin recently got together with a few of her neighbours and organized a clean-up of river beds, for instance. The women also got local government to green-light a project that will create home vegetable-gardens to promote healthier eating habits for families.

Yoselin is settled enough at home to focus on community work. Photo: EDUCO

"We made a work plan and decided to carry out clean-up campaigns in the river, the community church and in the well," says Yoselin. They also looked at rehabilitating water sources, promoting healthy eating, creating organic manure and family vegetable gardens.

"We all have needs but for single mothers this project is particularly good," says Yoselin. "There are mothers that have very small children and nobody that can look after them." In the collective she has helped set up, women take turns to look after each other's children so they can work on community projects.

"I know I can, and do not give myself any excuses," says Yoselin. "Even if I have my child, I take her with me and carry on. This is the life of rural women — a beautiful one, because we do not find excuses, we just fight and move forward."

Dream big

Yoselin dreams big — not just for herself, but for her 3-year-old daughter too. "I want my little girl to do well in life," she says. "I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up and she always says she wants to be a doctor. This fills me with happiness, to know that from such an early age she has this vision to do something for the greater good."

For 15 October, the International Day of Rural Women, Yoselin has a message: "To all the women who are in the same situation as me, in rural areas, I say we should not find excuses not to keep fighting because there are still lots of things to be achieved."

Learn more about cash assistance and WFP's work in El Salvador