Angélica Valbuen lives in Cundinamarca, Colombia. She is 39 years old, works in the fields. A situation that destines them to financial exclusion if it were not for the work of institutions like the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, which helps over 150,000 women in rural areas of Latin America.
The foundation organized a round table discussion in commemoration of International Day of Rural Women to give visibility to their role as an economic and social engine. With more than 1.2 million women entrepreneurs in Latin America, nearly 60 percent of the total number of people the foundation assists, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation is very familiar with the problems they face. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women produce over half of the food we consume, yet own only two percent of the land and receive just one percent of loans to promote the agricultural sector. “If I had known that I could do this alone, without a man, I would have started a long time ago. You need security, to love yourself a little more and to believe in yourself, just like the bank believed in me,” says Angélica.
“It’s harder for rural women to get ahead,” notes Laura Fernández, the Head of Women Empowerment at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation. Access to financing is difficult for these women: “They spend more time taking care of their children and older people and their contribution to agriculture tends to be invisible.” The reason? It’s hard to justify since they have more education than rural men and 70 percent are over the age of 30. Fernández notes that these women “have to overcome three obstacles: first for being a woman, second for living in a rural area where gender roles are much more defined, and finally the digital gap.”
Joel Hernández, the Head of Sustainability and Agrotechnology at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation indicates one possible reason: “Women have more obstacles to becoming entrepreneurs in this sector because it requires a greater investment in assets and more technical knowledge, although they are more willing to innovate and commit to a more sustainable business, thus improving their quality of life.” That’s why nearly half choose to work in retail professions.
Round table for the International Day of Rural Women organized by BBVA Microfinance Foundation - BBVAMF
Women’s commitment to climate change
Rural women also have a special role to play as leaders in the fight against climate change. FAO recognizes this, and the organization is increasingly promoting the role of women in protecting land, biodiversity and the cultural identity of their communities. Similarly, Soraya Villarroya, the European representative of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), says: “This is the time to recognize rural women, who are needed for food security and economic and social progress.” Villarroya stressed the importance of doing away with “that invisibility” that complicates access to power and decision-making.
To support rural women, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation has specific products such as microfinance for ecosystem-based adaptation (MEbA) in Colombia and the Dominican Republic; agricultural loans and macadamia value chain in the Dominican Republic; and Ruralfin in Panama. The foundation is also already working on programs to support rural women that include medical check-ups, psychological and legal assistance or information of interest to improve their small businesses.