Have you ever thought about the importance of spaces? The sense of belonging, community, and well-being we get just from being a part of something? Last Friday, for the first time that anyone can remember, the women who work at the Mangrove Association gathered for an opportunity to share their own experiences, develop relationships, and learn from others. The women who filled the room brought different experiences with them, some who were newcomers to the Mangrove Association and some who helped found La Coordinadora.
La Coordinadora has a long history of working with women of the community. Anyone who has travelled with EcoViva on a delegation has seen the high levels of participation and dedication that the women in the Local Groups have. Leadership, management, and organization are shown by Rosa and the rest of the water council in Tierra Blanca, or through getting to know Isabel, Marta, Marcelina, Maribel, and Cristina, all members of the Local Group of Ciudad Romero.
The Mangrove Association has built on this experience, incorporating women from the communities to work in different project areas and they now form an integral part of the everyday work and the leadership at the Mangrove Association. Carmen Argueta, Maria Elena Vigil, and Estela Hernández are three of the five members of the Board of Directors, overseeing the day to day work and the long term plans of the association. Carmen and Maria Elena, the treasurer and community representative, are both founding members of La Coordinadora, and Estela Hernandez, the President, is the daughter of one of the founders. In addition to serving as the President on the Board, last March Estela was elected to the Salvadoran National Assembly, becoming the first women to represent her department of Usulután. These women, in addition to many others in the Mangrove Association and La Coordinadora, stand out as role models for other women in their communities.
In the meeting, the women spoke about the support they feel from their co-workers- both women and men- and the responsibility that they have to work with and for their communities every day. On top of the long hours and hard work they put in here at the office, they all have big responsibilities back at their homes with their families. Like many women around the world, they struggle to find the balance between the work they feel drawn to do in the communities and the traditional role of women in the home.
The leaders of the Mangrove Association and La Coordinadora have worked for years to create spaces for those marginalized in the BajoLempa, They have created Local Groups, water committees, cooperatives, youth groups, dance groups, theater groups, groups of artisans and so many more. Each of these is a space where community members have a place to go to have their voice heard, to learn something new, make connections, and bring about lasting change.
With this initial meeting, the same women who have been important catalysts in the creation of so many other places of belonging will have a space of their own for dialogue, support, and connection. As women leaders in society struggling with machismo, they acknowledge the challenges they face every day but give thanks for their mentors, both women and men, who have helped them get to where they are now.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, join us in honoring the continuing legacy of women in leadership in the Mangrove Association and La Coordinadora, and all of the hard work they put in for the communities of the Bajo Lempa and the Bay of Jiquilisco.