October 2012

Pro Mujer : In Favour Of Women

At the recent Women in the World Summit held in New York City, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said: “Nations that invest in women’s employment, health, and education are just more likely to have better outcomes. Their children will be healthier and better educated. And all over the world, we’ve seen what women do when they get involved in helping to bring peace. So this is not just the right thing to do for us to hold up these women, to support them, to encourage their involvement; this is a strategic imperative.”

By: Marie Cathrine Ettrup
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Ryde – Denmark

One of Pro Mujer’s offices in Cochabamba
Photo: Courtesy of Pro-Mujer

Pro Mujer

Two women, who saw this potential back in 1990, were Lynne R. Patterson, an American school teacher, and Carmen Velasco, a Bolivian professor. In La Paz their shared vision of, that the empowerment of women is the most effective way to alleviate poverty, brought the two women together. They both wished to help poor Bolivian women to get skills to improve their businesses, their self-esteem and knowledge about healthcare. Pro Mujer was founded. In the beginning Pro Mujer offered a space where women in Bolivia could get health services and empowerment training. After speaking with the Bolivian women Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco realized, that the women also needed to raise financial support. The Bolivian women’s businesses did not pay enough off so they could spend money on a doctor appointment. Then Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco suited a microfinance program together, that maybe is guilty of the growth of Pro Mujer to be the most important and respected organization of its kind in Latin America.

Today Pro Mujer operates in five Latin American countries: Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Argentina and Peru. In every country Pro Mujer is offering financial services and health and human development services. In the organization’s flagship, Bolivia, there are offices in every nine departments and 71 focal centres or neighbourhood centres. The most of the focal centres have employed on-site doctors and nurses and offer borrowers and their families a variety of health services including Pap tests, pre- and post-natal care, breast exams and STD testing for less than $1 a month. If women do not get their healthcare when needed, they can lose lots of days in business because either they or their children are ill. Therefore Pro Mujer offers these low-cost, high-quality packages and is “raising awareness on the importance of health for themselves and their families” as Fernando Campuzano, head of communication Pro Mujer Bolivia, says.

Photo: Courtesy of Pro-Mujer

But to be a good entrepreneur it is not enough to know and take care of your own and your family’s health. From their first day as a client at Pro Mujer, the women gain necessary skills for running a small business. They learn how to analyse and improve their businesses and how to extend the most out of their loans. When Pro Mujer has suited the women up for business, the women can make their microfinance loans without anything but their word. Access to credit and savings accounts makes a lot differences to entrepreneur women. To fully understand how microfinance is possibly an explanation will follow: Microfinance institutions are funded by private sponsors, which funds or donate a sum of money to the microfinance institute. An example on a microfinance institute could be KIVA, who is cooperating with Pro Mujer. KIVA administrates the donated money and they are now available to Pro Mujer’s clients. A client from Bolivia makes a loan, uses the learned business skills and improves her business. The client repays the loan back and KIVA registers the money, the sponsor gets the money back and can make a new fund. Pro Mujer Bolivia’s loans have an average on US$309 distributed on more than 100.000 clients – 14.000 alone in Cochabamba. For some women a communal bank is better paid off than making an individual microfinance loan. The communal banks exist of 18-28 self-selected clients, where the women guarantee each other’s loans. This has appeared to be very successful since 99% repay their loans on time.

Photo: Courtesy of Pro-Mujer

During the repeating meetings throughout their loans the women are not only shown the important aspects of a successful business life, but they are also feeling the fellowship and socialize with the other Pro Mujer clients. Empowerment of women and making them recognize their own value and potential is represented in every aspect of Pro Mujer. Knowledge about domestic violence and women’s rights; strengthen family relations and self-esteem; develop leadership skills; educate in computer skills, communication skills and main health care are integrated in everything that Pro Mujer touches. “The differentiating aspect is the comprehensiveness of services. We aim not only to give credit to women but also the organization seeks to support positive empowerment and improve selfesteem through access to spaces (focal centres) where they find fellowship and support”, underlines Fernando Campuzano.

But why women and why now?

Pro Mujer find that the poor, working women in Latin America are “industrious, honest, innovative and responsible”. Through helping women become the keys of change at home and in their communities, Pro Mujer believes, you can make a difference in the world’s poverty and make an impact on society through women. The more than 100.000 clients in Pro Mujer Bolivia have approximately a family with five members and suddenly Pro Mujer has not only an impact on the 100.000 women, but all in all on 500.000 children, women and men. Either more Fernando Campuzano specifies that “to empower women in this way we are helping to alleviate poverty and improve human development rates as we strive to improve their quality of life”. And Pro Mujer´s vast network in Bolivia is truly making a difference a place where a difference is greatly needed. The vast amount of poor women in Bolivia really needs organizations like Pro Mujer. Adela Hualuque, 43 years old, started as a Pro Mujer client for 17 years ago. She is now a credit officer at Pro Mujer Bolivia and is o

Photo: Courtesy of Pro-Mujer

ne of the greatest examples, of that Pro Mujer’s work is worth it.

“Before I was very timid and didn’t talk to people. Now I interact with people all the time. I’ve seen for myself that women can advance, that we are worth something and can help ourselves,” said Adela Hualuque. “Pro Mujer has given me moral support, and I am not the only one who has set up goals for myself and moved forward. In the 17 years I’ve been with the organization, I’ve seen many other women get ahead too.”

If you want to help Pro Mujer help poor entrepreneurs in Latin America, visit www.promujer.org

Pro Mujer Bolivia in numbers:

- The microfinance institutions in Pro Mujer has since its beginning disbursed more than US$1 billion in loans to entrepreneur women.
- The loans have an average on US$309.
- 99% of the women pay their loans back in time.
- There are more than 100.000 clients in Bolivia.

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