Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Right Thing

By Kim Groves

Recently, the World Bank released its World Development Report that looks ahead for 2012. Its focus is on how equality in economic opportunities between men and women can translate to better development prospects for all. The report has been tagged as “ Gender Equality: the Right and Smart Thing to do”. Importantly, it sites many inequalities that need to be addressed between men and women in regards to access to economic opportunities and incomes, in the labour, agriculture and entrepreneurship markets; and large differences in voice and representation between women and men both in households and societies.


Blocking women and girls from getting the skills and earnings to succeed in a globalized world is not only wrong, but also economically harmful,” said Justin Yifu Lin, World Bank Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President, Development Economics. “Sharing the fruits of growth and globalization equally between men and women is essential to meeting key development goals.”

The economically harmful is socially harmful. Giving women the chance to participate equally in economy is important, and so is giving them the chance to participate in the society within which economy exists. We have separated economy from its origins in social reality to the point that many choose to refer to it as if it were a separate entity, or worse, that it dominates society. However, economy is a tool that was developed to compliment and benefit a complex society. If economy is not serving the women and men of society, then whom is it serving?

Here in Mexico, who is benefiting from crippling commercial microloans at 70% interest or more? Certainly not society. By providing interest free loans to women, and giving them the skills and confidence to manage them, En Via’s microfinance programs are reclaiming economy, and making it serve again.

It is not a radical idea; giving women the chance to take control of their businesses and finances instead of being controlled by them. It is not radical to realise that the relationships that we build with the community are central rather than consequential to the success of our program. We recognise every time we meet with our borrowers that it is the society, the community, that is operating all around these loans. The loans are simply tools. What the women do with these tools is the essential part.

We often get asked how we measure success in the program. Do we keep track of particular rates of economic growth? What we notice and keep track of is how the loans, as tools, are working to bring development to the women and their families and community. We notice when a woman’s investments mean that her standard of living has improved, or when her children are enrolled in school, or when she obtains a personal goal, level of pride, or independence within her community. We notice when other women are invited by their neighbours to join us, and the ways in which the women support each other and those in risk by including them.

Essentially, we agree with the Bank, it is the right thing to do to give women a chance at equal participation in economy, because we believe that economy is just another part of society. And it is with equality in society that we can hope to develop.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Life is Just a Bowl of Jello

By Susan Bean Aycock

Ever since I moved to Oaxaca nearly two years ago, I’ve been on a great food adventure. Like learning Spanish, you have to get out in the street if you want to get the real taste of Mexico. For me, it’s been a grand love affair on every street corner.

There are so many taco fillings – from pig snout to goat parts – that you just can’t find in any American grocery store. Chapulines (fried grasshoppers) with a variety of flavorings. I love huitlacoche, which is literally corn fungus, but with an exquisite earthy taste like truffles. Fruits with textures that lean towards the alarming but reach the sublime in taste. And then there’s jello, gelatina, in Mexico.

Where I’m from in the south United States, jello is a wiggly, watery non-food given mostly to children and convelescents. You can always count on getting a plastic cup of jello in the hospital. Moms give it to sick kids along with tomato soup and a grilled-cheese sandwich.

American jello flavors are pretty simple and fruity: lime, lemon, grape, cherry, strawberry. Rarely is it considered party food, though I’ve seen a Fourth of July jello flag made with cherry and blueberry jello, with whipped cream for the stars and stripes.

Oh, but jello in Mexico. Every other corner vendor sells it in plastic cups in an astonishing number of forms: clear (with water), cloudy (with milk), multi-colored and textured with all kinds of fruits, nuts and more -- are those raisins? -- suspended in the various layers. Red, white and green for Independence Day. Clear cubes suspended in cream.

Mexican jello is also a little unsettlingly perky on the plate; it barely even wiggles. You can actually cut it with a knife if you’ve made it according to the package recipe. 

The flavors are as exotic as the fruits that I still sometimes don’t recognize in the market. There are all the regular fruit flavors available in the states, plus coconut and mango. And more. Chocolate (not as strange as it sounds; made it with milk, it’s like pudding). Rompope, their famous eggnog-flavored liqueur. Pistachio. Nut, though that one’s a weird beige color. Syrup (would that be maple?). Vanilla, more like dessert flan.

Jello accompanies every major food celebration here. Often, the birthday “cake” itself is a jello concoction with fruits and nuts suspended in it. Or it accompanies a more traditional cake, like ice cream on the side. My English class in Teotitán del Valle surprised me on my birthday last month with a vanilla cake and a side of orange jello. It was wonderful.

Jello in Mexico is a great metaphor for living here. It’s familiar and yet it’s not. It’s doesn’t seem like it’s going to surprise you, but it will. You might be tempted to pass it up because you just can’t imagine what it’s like, but you’d really be missing something. (I eat pig snout tacos and grasshoppers; maple syrup jello might be next.)

In fact, I’ve got to go. I need to stir the milk heating on the stove: the bottom later of this jello dish I’m making is going to be mocha (chocolate jello laced with instant coffee) and the top vanilla. It will be all nice and stripey when I cut the slices.

There’s no recipe and I’ve never made it before, but odds are it will turn out to be delicious -- if a little unexpected. Just like life in Mexico.