Posted by: iainjhunt | May 25, 2011

Women at Work

By Iain Hunt, Waslala Project Manager

Recently, during Holy Week, I found some time to visit my work compañera, Virginia, at her farm. While there, I cozied up in the spring heat next to the wood fire and busied my typically clumsy hands.

I helped Virginia make a special kind of tortilla that weekend– one that incorporates cassava into the masa (dough) as well the standard ground corn. The art of mixing a good batch of concrete actually isn’t that different from the art of mixing a good tortilla masa, but here in Waslala it’s rare that you find somebody who masters both of these jobs. In El Guabo, however, you’ll find two (actually three when Virginia comes to visit) exceptional women, Modesta and Lupe , who have literally been in the trenches from day one, advancing the community water project one pipe length at a time (as well as mixing concrete and echando tortillas).

Modesta and Lupe, Waslala

Modesta and Lupe

Virginia recently spent some time with this pair of women, accompanying them to a quiet spot next to the river where they could have an interview in a private setting. Virginia asked them about their experiences working side-by-side with men in a region where hard, manual work is still culturally considered a man’s job.

Lupe, Modesta and Virginia, Waslala

Lupe, Modesta and Virginia gluing pipes

Both responded that the experience has been “tranquila,” but that each has been thankful to have the other compañera there to accompany them. When asked about their role among the women of the community, Modesta responded, “Well, my role has always been to wash coffee, plant bananas, work in the fields”, and then added that there are a lot of women who stay in the house. Lupe talked about how when she was little she always stayed in the house with her mother, but that when she was about fifteen she “cut her fingernails and went out to do a man’s work.” She continued, “I give thanks to God because I know now that I can do anything.”

Modesta is also the treasurer of the community water committee, and as such the only woman who’s part of the executive board. This is, unfortunately, the norm.

Of the communities that already have water systems, only 50% have women as members of their water boards, and of those with female representation, this representation is no more than one member, and never in the positions of president or vice president. At a recent capacity building workshop for water committees put on by the Pastoral del Agua (more on this in an upcoming blog post), only 5 of the 37 participants were female.

Lupe, Modesta and Virginia hard at work in El Guabo

Modesta, Lupe and Virginia hard at work in El Guabo

Thus, despite the fantastic example of Modesta and Lupe, we still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that women have their seat at the stakeholders’ table, especially considering the greater stake that women have in these community water projects. After all, the responsibility of fetching water from sometimes faraway locations falls disproportionally on the very shoulders of women. And it’s women who are typically the primary family caregivers, attending to children who get sick from drinking dirty water.



  1. Excellent article, Iain. One could argue that the inability to empower women across the globe is the greatest failure of humanity. We are so much less without good balance.

    On a different note, considering how good your green chili is, harnessing the skills of tortilla-making would bring about near superhuman powers (I’m guessing).

    And finally, my Mother wanted me to remind you to find you a ‘tough woman’ from the Waslala. America needs more of that kind of grit.

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