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Empowering rural women in Guatemala: “We are improving our family life.”

Herlinda Caal Tzi is a 48-year-old Q’eqchi’ woman from rural Guatemala. She lives in the village of Panzós, in the country’s Alta Verapaz department, with her husband Tomás Cac, their three sons and two daughters-in-law.


Herlinda is one of many women who have made positive changes in their lives through the United Nations joint programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE).

In telling her story, Herlinda recalls how things were before the RWEE programme came to Panzós, when women were excluded from many of the decision-making processes of the community, and did not participate in training and other activities. Indeed, she remembers being unsure of how much she could do.

“When I came to the women’s group and committed myself to work and participate in the training processes of the programme, I felt very afraid and wondered, would I be capable to cope with this commitment?”

Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE) is a joint programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

Launched in October 2012 and currently funded by the governments of Sweden and Norway, the five-year multi-agency programme is being implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda, where it aims to empower rural women, in particular by improving their food and nutrition security, increasing their incomes, enhancing their decision-making power and encouraging policy environments that are conducive to their economic empowerment.

“Now I know what rights we have as women...”

Through the initiatives supported by the RWEE programme, the women of Panzós have begun to participate and have a greater voice in community activities and decision-making. Herlinda herself is now confident of the active role she plays as president of the Women’s Committee; she coordinates training and other activities that support 25 women.

“Now I know what rights we have as women, and that we have the right to participate in the different committees established in our community; we must strive to be the leaders of our organization.”

At home, the women have begun to apply the skills and techniques they have learned from RWEE training sessions on improved food security and farming methods. For example, Herlinda now knows how to better manage any surplus production in her corn crop, including through grain storage, reserves and planning for seasonal shortages and price increases.


“Now, because of my participation and the [RWEE programme's] support to women, we are improving our family life. With the money I made from selling my corn in town, I made improvements to my house — I installed corrugated steel sheets and have more space to live with my sons and daughters-in-law.”

“In the beginning, my husband, Tomás, used to tell me, ‘Herlinda, why did you commit yourself to this?’ But now that he has realized that I am contributing money resulting from selling the product of my effort, he says, ‘You really had a good reason for wanting to be in this project.’”