The United Nations has been commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8th since 1975. This day is linked with the feminist movements during the Russian Revolution of 1917. This means that for over a century, women have been advocating for their right to vote, equal working conditions, and equal pay, among other demands.
Today, in the 21st century, there are laws and conventions that speak to women’s rights. This includes the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and their objective is to end poverty by improving access to health, education, social protection, and employment opportunities. Under the SDG item 4, it states how we must “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
The reality is, however, that this objective has not been met. It is discerning to know how women are at a disadvantage simply for their gender, as the UN-Women report says that “there are 15 million girls out of the education system compared to 10 million boys.”
The educational gap begins in kindergarten, and as students progress through each educational level, many girls have no choice but to leave the education system early. This is a result of the social norm, where girls are deemed responsible for performing household chores and caring for others. In addition, due to early-age pregnancies, girls are unable to finish school.
The Women Empowerment Project (WEP) is aware of the barrier that exists, preventing women from accessing education. In the Municipality of Tepecoyo, there are 21 women entrepreneurs who are striving to build a business that will allow them to generate income for themselves and their families.
After conducting a survey on educational attainment among the 21 women, we found that only 4 women entrepreneurs managed to complete high school (19.04%), 8 entrepreneurs (38.09%) completed ninth grade, 9 women entrepreneurs (42.85%) barely make it to the first years of the equivalent of elementary school, and 1 of them has never attended school and learned to read by her own means.
The main reason that prevented women from completing their education was that from a young age, they had to assume household chores in their own family and work to bring additional income to their homes. It is important to note that even for the four entrepreneurs who finished high school, they ended up taking on household chores, taking care of others, and working low-paying jobs to support their homes.
What does it take for women to obtain the same pay-rate as men?
Our research provides a grave, but realistic outlook on women’s inability to complete higher education. As a result, their career and life trajectory is significantly impacted. For the women entrepreneurs we have worked with, many of them express sadness when talking about their dreams that were left behind.
Among the stories shared, there’s one of them that says “I wanted to be a teacher, but my mom told me that I had to help with her business of selling fruits and vegetables and that I also had to take care of my younger siblings. She stressed that we couldn’t afford to ‘waste time’ with me attending school.”
Even though this was over thirty years ago, the entrepreneur’s eyes still water and her voice trembles when she recounts this part of her life. She adds that if she didn’t fulfill her dream, it was because of her family’s beliefs and customs and not because she didn’t have the capacity to do so.
Another participant, when she finished her first year in the WEP, was surprised with all she had learned and shared “if I had had the opportunity to study before and learn how to manage my business as I have done in the Project, my life and that of my children would have been so much easier”.
The Women’s Empowerment Project provides access to the right to education which society has previously denied to our participants.
They thrive throughout their time in the Project, building their entrepreneurial skills through various activities and learning from one another’s knowledge and past experiences.
They are often surprised about how their outlook on life became incredibly different after participating in the Project and accessing mental health services–participants were left feeling empowered and confident in being able to achieve whatever they set their minds to. As the entrepreneurs discover life-long skills, they have newfound hope about improving their living conditions and enjoying their lives.
Join these entrepreneurs and break the bias: It is equally beneficial for women to have access to education just as men. Support our efforts to give more Salvadoran women access to education by sponsoring an entrepreneur today.
With your support, we can continue discovering amazing women and support them in fulfilling their dreams.