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The landfill that dominates the municipality of Villa de Zaachila takes in 1,000 tons of waste a day. Located in the southern state of Oaxaca, in Mexico, 76 per cent of the population live in poverty.

Currently, a majority of residents earn a living as informal recyclers – ‘waste pickers’ – at the landfill site. But entrepreneurship can provide opportunities for these communities to improve their livelihoods. Oaxaca has the highest density of businesses in the country. Many women start microbusinesses out of necessity, typically in food preparation, small grocery stores or beauty shops. Despite their entrepreneurial nature, these women face a multitude of challenges to develop and grow their businesses.

Thanks to the generous support of the Trafigura Foundation, and in partnership with SiKanda, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women will seek to help 300 women entrepreneurs address these challenges through a holistic suite of services. Last year, we conducted a needs assessment in order to understand the context for women in Villa de Zaachila and assess the ways in which the Foundation could offer support. We learnt that:

  • 33%of women stated that their families depend solely on their income to survive
  • 65% live in households that have two or three incomes, including their own contribution
  • 66%of women state that the total income of their family is rarely enough
  • 26% of the women have economic dependents outside the household such as relatives whom they help with basic expenses such as food, healthcare and other services.

What are the barriers constraining Oaxaca women entrepreneurs?

Discrimination and negative social norms within households and communities

Many of the women interviewed spoke of a deeply-rooted ‘machista’ culture in their communities. This social attitude dictates that women should not participate in activities perceived as “masculine”, including working outside the home. This means that the women entrepreneurs working as a necessity to support their families face constant discrimination even from within their household. Their agency and decision making are dependent on male family members, while the time that they can devote to their business is restricted due to care responsibilities.

“I would tell other women that it is not easy to start, but if your husband supports you, it is possible.” – 24-year-old woman entrepreneur in Zaachila

Lack of skills, knowledge and business networks

There are currently no opportunities in the municipality for women entrepreneurs to gain the knowledge, skills, networks and support they need to manage their businesses more effectively. Some services are available in Oaxaca City but insecurity, travel costs, and domestic responsibilities prohibit the women from accessing these opportunities.

 “As a child, I wanted to become a teacher, but my mum would say: ‘No, you are a girl. I cannot give you schooling. If you were a boy, yes, because he is worth it, but not you.”

– 40-year-old woman entrepreneur in Zaachila

Limited opportunities to access capital.

Lack of capital to invest in their business is also holding women back. Few women can open bank accounts, because they lack basic documents such as proof of address or birth certificates. This forces them to use informal credit from insurers or family, which can make them reliant on abusive intermediaries.

Limited opportunities to access new markets to sell products and services

Women entrepreneurs in Villa de Zaachila lack information on available markets, and have limited capacity to brand, price and advertise their services and also often lack the confidence to persuade consumers to consider their products. This ultimately affects women’s ability to scale and increase their clients or market share.

 “As soon as the [money] arrives, it goes away. I don’t do the math.”
– 33-year-old woman entrepreneur in Zaachila

What we are doing to address these challenges?

This year, thanks to the generous support of the Trafigura Foundation, our project in partnership with SiKanda will seek to address these barriers through a holistic suite of services.

We’ll establish an entrepreneurial centre to support 300 marginalized women over three years to become successful business owners and to help give them greater control over their own lives. This support will include business management and life-skills training delivered in parallel with personalised business-specific coaching. Thereafter women will receive structured advice and support over six months from a guidance counsellor. To combat market and finance access issues, we will facilitate the creation of sector and savings groups to support businesses to run more cost-effectively.  Our bundled services will also include peer-to-peer support, networking opportunities, childcare support, while we will also offer quarterly sessions for men in the community in order to start to address barriers posed by the prevalent ‘machismo’ culture.

Read more about the key findings and recommendations in our summary report of the Oaxaca needs assessment or stay up to date with this project by visiting our Mujeres A.V.E project page.

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