The Women's Empowerment Project (WEP) attempts to reduce the effects of gender inequality and marginalization experienced by Salvadoran women. Gender inequality creates economic and personal insecurity for Salvadoran women. More than 50% of women active in the economy and 100% of the WEP participants work informally without access to legal rights or benefits. Women's personal vulnerability is amplified by violence and a lack of opportunity to develop their leadership in the home and in the community. During the year long project, 25 women have access to workshops, counseling and advisory services that aim to stregthen their self-confidence, improve their leadership and communication skills as well as develop business management techniques.
In El Salvador, the economy is organized in two sectors: the formal and and the informal. The formal sector includes registered businesses that contract their employees and of which around 70% guarantee legal benefits, like health insurance, retirement fund, paid vacation, etc... It is not easily accessible for those without higher education or a skilled profession.
The informal sector is comprised largely of small business with 5 or less employees hired for positions that do not require a professional or technical background and of which only around 7% offer the legal benefits mentioned above. These small businesses include a vegetable or meat stand in the market, a tortilla stand along the side of the road, a small corner store, etc...
Of those active in the formal sector, 61% are men and 39% are women. Of those active in the informal sector, 51% are women and 49% are men. In other words, the formal sector is heavily dominated by men and the informal sector slightly more dominated by women. This is a sign of the gender inequality within the Salvadoran economy. The fact that women are more visible in the informal sector means that they are more economically vulnerable than men and have to work hard to guarantee for themselves dignified work.
There are 25 women who participate in the Women´s Empowerment Project each year, all from the urban municipalities of Mejicanos and San Salvador. Of these women, 68% live in communities affected by gang violence, which threatens not only the physical security of the residents of these communities but also the incentive to start a business due to the taxes that the gangs collect. Despite this ever-present threat, each woman has taken the intiative to start a small business in the informal sector, including an at-home bakery, a small convinience store, selling vegetables or clothing door-to-door, production of artisanal sweets, a family run pizzeria, and more.
For 40% of these women, their business does not provide enough income on its own to take care of the household needs. Therefore, they have had to come up with multiple sources of income, most commonly being washing and ironing clothes or cleaning homes several days a week. Even so, 96% of the women do not earn the minimum salary, which is around $250.00 a month. They have to be wise administrators of this money because 56% are the principle income earners in the home. In order to meet their daily needs, they spend almost all of the profit of their businesses, not having develped the habit of a personal savings in order to provide a more secure economic future for their families nor of a buisness savings to guarantee future growth.
Marisol is one of our new participants this year. She is the single mother of a 6-year old boy who receives a scholarship from Programa Velasco at the child development center. Every day after dropping off her son at the center, Marisol spends the morning selling cookies on the public buses. She sells on average $12.00 a day from which she gains a profit of about $7.00. Up until a month ago, she did not maintain a registry to control the income and expenses of her small business but has now designed a format to determine the profit of her sales from which she now withdraws her daily salary. In this way, she now keeps separate her personal finances from those of her business and has been able to start a small savings with which she dreams of opening a CD at local bank. This way she will have a protected fund that will ensure a more secure future for her family.