For the past 11 years, a movement has been under way to empower indigenous women in a remote area of Paraguay, providing education on women’s rights and encouraging them to take part in community affairs.
Norma Alvarez, an Enxet Sur leader, has traveled the length and breadth of the Paraguayan Chaco, an arid, sparsely populated region in central South America, visiting even the most isolated communities.
“It is not easy for indigenous women,” she said. “They want to speak out, they want to participate but most often the men will not let them. They live in isolated communities without access to information,” she recently told Church World Service.
Alvarez became involved in working with women through her role in the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Chaco (CPI) where, despite various conflicts with the men, she set up the Women’s Secretariat within the organization and began preparations for the First Meeting of Indigenous Women of the Chaco.
Church World Service and five local partners in the region have formed the Integrated Support Program for the Defense and Promotion of the Rights of Native Peoples of the Gran Chaco–a coordinated effort to defend and promote the rights of the native peoples of the Chaco.
It also founded the organization Buscando Juntas un Camino (Working Together for Solutions), or the BJC, which the women describe as: “A space for learning and sharing as indigenous women based on our common vision and experiences.”
“It was very difficult to get support for the organization of this event, the men were against it and there was a lot of confrontations–but my female colleagues in CPI were very supportive, in particular the Guarani women who really helped me bring the process along,” she said. “I owe a lot of what I have learned to the strength and courage of Guarani women.”
The organization hosts meetings at least three times a year and also carries out advocacy actions holding meetings with various government agencies. Key concerns in the meetings are access to water, health education, land and violence against women.
According to Guarani leader Antonia Parada de Barrientos, “The men have begun to notice that as women became more organized, the community is stronger. Gradually they have begun to support the work of BJC.”