For Sandra Mendoza, the Colombian entrepreneur served by the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, there is no question: “Sexism is the biggest barrier to overcome in rural areas.” This is also how she describes what it’s like to be a woman living in the countryside. At an event held in honor of the International Day of Rural Women, both she and Manuela Gómez, a Spanish entrepreneur from the Federation of Rural Women Associations (FADEMUR), spoke of a reality they know firsthand, despite the 5,000 miles that separate them.
“Wherever you go there are men,” says Sandra, when asked about her everyday life. She grows coffee and raises pigs with the support of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation. This foundation offers financial services to 145,000 rural entrepreneurs in Latin America and also provides technical support to help them with their businesses. “I set the goal of becoming the first woman to run the coffee growers committee in my community and I did it! There were 11 men and I was the only woman,” she says, proud of the fact that her hard work is changing things, even though there is still a lot to be done. “Some women have to ask their husbands for permission to go to the store,” she explains.
The closest town to San Antonio (Tolima) is more than half an hour away. The closest city is six hours away. Nevertheless, thanks to a mobile app from Bancamía, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s institution in Colombia, she can manage her finances from home. “Knowing how much money I have and being able to pay my credit card bill gives me independence,” adds Sandra. She has gotten used to walking all over her yard to find the exact spot where she gets the little reception there is in the area.
Sandra Mendoza grows coffee and raises pigs with the support of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation.
According to UN Women, most of the 3.4 billion people without Internet access live in rural areas. Frequently, it is poor women who are affected the most. FAO’s Special Representative in Spain, Ignacio Trueba, recognized how important it is for rural entrepreneurs to have access to new technologies in order to reduce isolation. “Despite progress in this area, there is still a digital gap between urban and rural areas.”
Manuela Gómez is one of the entrepreneurs who has seen how technology makes her life easier. She has spent her entire life in the fields of La Mancha. She and her sister co-own Quesos Reino, a family business that makes cheese from sheep’s milk. “I can learn about new processes or techniques to use in my job, or solve any problem that arises online,” she maintains.
Entrepreneurs Sandra Mendoza and Manuela Gómez with Bárbara Villar, from FAO - Fundación Microfinanzas BBVA
She says that she and her sister have been “lucky” because they have not been discriminated against for being women, but adds that just like in Colombia, “the countryside still belongs to men.” She notes that her biggest challenge has been finding a balance between work and family life.
This is a familiar situation for many other rural women in Spain. The latest data from the Ministry of the Environment shows that 80% of rural women are in charge of household chores, similar to rural Colombia.
“Empowering women helps to solve humanity’s problems and attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” assured the FAO’s Special Representative in Spain at the end of the event. The BBVA Microfinance Foundation is committed to this goal, and works to ensure that women - no matter how far they may be - are independent and can break into a world traditionally run by men.