Women and Microfinance in Light of Machismo in Costa Rica
Alana Solimeo, KF9, Costa Rica
I’m not here to cry wolf. I know that the subordination of women exists to much more oppressive degrees around the world.
I am also aware that my ability to identify phenomena here as ‘machismo’ has everything to do with my perspective, that of a female born into a world where I have virtually no boundaries, where glass ceilings are slowly being pushed further and further away from my upper limits by the women that precede me. But I am here to tell my stories, and I’ll do so cautiously. This one is about my personal experience with machismo and the notions I’ve gathered spending my time with women and families in rural Costa Rica.
Recently I spent a week visiting EDESA’s only feminist Community Credit Enterprises (ECCs), located in the Northern Zone of Costa Rica. I was eager to spend my time with these women because I couldn’t understand why they would exclude men from their services and activities. When I learned about some of the first women’s rights philosophers in college, their argument wasn’t based on human rights but utility– why exclude half of the population, half the potential production, ingenuity, ideas, and work force? So immediately when I heard that there were feminist ECCs I applied this logic. Why not include men and women– double the ideas, potential profits, community growth?
Simultaneously there was an image nagging in the back of my mind. The memory of every household I had stayed with to date in rural Costa Rica, of women immobile, stuck, feet planted in the kitchen, to cook, clean, provide, take care, repeat. Day in, day out. They don’t leave the house; they don’t have means to leave the house. Their husbands are free to move about and outside of the community; they work outside the house, travel the region and country in cars on motorcycles. Women cook, clean, provide, take care, repeat. But I dismiss the nagging thought, because they seem content. Who am I to judge their way of life? Who am I to say this is wrong? As long as they are happy and don’t want things to play out differently I don’t feel I have the right to judge.
With these two sides battling for space in my mind, the practical, utilitarian argument that all should be included and then the pervasive curiosity and sadness I try not to feel about a woman’s role in the rural family and community, I spoke with the women of two ECCs, wondering, “Why exclude men?”
In the following video you will see four women of what are considered “feminist” ECCs respond to my curiosity.
Machismo can be publicly displayed, like the way a man, or a group of men think they have the right to make a woman feel uncomfortable and unsafe as she walks down the street by following her in their car, and shouting things out the window. Machismo is seen when a man speaks differently, incomprehensibly to me because I’m a woman in the office, making it impossible for me to understand him or communicate and then is seen speaking clearly and professionally to the men he works with. It can also be subtle, not blatantly visible to outsiders. This is the machismo that the women in the video live. The machismo they’re up against isn’t so much an action performed by a man, but a cultural demeanor that doesn’t encourage the action of women. They think that there is no other way to mobilize themselves and their fellow female community members than to specifically target women through a women-exclusive ECC.
They recognize a problem in their world and they work and build to fix it. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit that keeps microfinance alive.
They use microfinance as a way to grow, to challenge norms, push further. They’re not only choosing to become business women as a way out, but they’re choosing not to have to choose between being a mother and being a business woman. I’m thankful (and clearly still in Thanksgiving mode) that they have the space, through microfinance and EDESA, to grow. I’m happy that they’ve shown me that there’s room and reason for a variety of microfinance models, and I’m happy that when I asked my first group of women-only borrowers how they were doing they told me “We’re doing soo well, write that down in capital letters, We’re doing SOO WELL!”/>