Thoughts On Empowerment
First a definition of empowerment and our vision with our products. This is not anything new, this is my vision and my stearin stick for my project PURA UTZ. I wrote this when I founded PURA UTZ some years ago, but it is always good to repeat it and share it again.
/ Empowerment is the process of obtaining basic opportunities for marginalized people,
either directly by those people, or through the help of non-marginalized others who share their own access to these opportunities…
Empowerment includes encouraging and developing the skills for self-sufficiency with special focus on eliminating the individual group members’ future needs for charity or welfare /
One of our partners in Guatemala asked very reflectively —
“They say we live in a hyperconnected world, so why do we feel so disconnected?”
Our response is – LET'S CONNECT!
PURA UTZ is a project where we try to connect worlds in all aspects. We create cool products that honor the Mayan weaving tradition and colorful outlook, but at the same time are suitable for a more simplistic Scandinavian style.
We connect worlds in the sense of the physical world, where products cross oceans, borders and mountains to reach new destinations and environments. It's the connection between the unjust chasm of what we with stigma name the ‘first world countries’ and the ‘third world countries’, but also all the worlds that present themselves in the encounter between people and cultures. It's a connection to the world around us and it’s a search for meaning and an attempt to integrate it all.
We want to open international markets for the artisans in order to acknowledge their skills and crafts, and we want to provide you with products that are of high quality and design, plus have meaning and history.
With every purchase you are supporting the highland women from the most rural areas of Guatemala and the individual artisans, providing them with an income they otherwise wouldn't have, and thereby helping support their familie.
I felt like sharing a few thoughts about what this translates into for me, the women we collaborate with and you as a consumer. I would also like to share some thoughts about being a woman investing in women, and what fascinates me about this relationship.
The actual everyday of empowerment thoughts
The reason why I call my business an empowerment project, is that the values and roots of what my vision is derive from grass root values in the nonprofit sector. I worked as a volunteer teacher and nurse several times, and it was when I was writing a thesis on the reproductive health behavior of Mayan women that the first thoughts of PURA UTZ took form. I was eager to try to shed light to some of the barriers there were for the women to actually family plan, use birth control and have knowledge about their reproductive organs and health in general. The women were not planning how many children they wanted or could support, they had limited knowledge about their reproductive health and what ressources they had available to them. I had tons of ideas on how to teach them, reach them and make it available. But as soon as I left Guatemala, everything fell through.
Without getting too much into the details of the entire thesis, I will share what I came to the conclusion of on a more personal level – if the change doesn’t make sense in your everyday life, you simply won’t succeed with it, even though it might be good for you.
So after all these years of working as a volunteer with my ambitions and compassion and knowledge I wanted to share with the women, it was more my need than theirs. I got in to researching on Women's Rights and really just Human Rights, and discovered that if your basic human rights aren’t met – food, shelter, owning proper, having a small saving in the bank, access to health care and experiencing significance and purposefulness in life, well then you are not in a place to apply critical thinking and or in a position to adapt to change and knowledge.
I needed to create a recipe for these things - generating money and a space of significance, and all of a sudden textiles fell into my lap. And insomnia kicked in. I was stoked about this idea and knew in my heart and stomach that this was my path. The most marginalized women that live high in the mountains or any other place, regardless of knowing how to write or do math, they know how to weave. And that was the key I felt. The way to work directly with the women that my heart was close to and a key to give them an opportunity to create an income for themselves.
I feel humble in terms of knowing that this will not save the world, but if you zoom out and then back in, you find that the world really is just made up of all these tiny parts/energy/particles – and if you can actually impact the lives of one person, you can have an impact on several generations to come. So I think it makes a lot of sense to do what you can.
How the definition of empowerment translates into the products, the women and your purchase
(Just a number of my thoughts on this - we could keep that discussion open for a long time)
- You generate money in the hands of the women themselves, and they can decide how to turn this money into change in their lives. Poverty research shows that the most effective way to break the circle of poverty is by investing in the women in developing countries, because women are much more likely than men to invest their money in the family, school, food and health care.
- We have a mutual beneficial relationship. As per the definition, Denmark/me is only the vessel or access for the women and the craft to a different market. The textiles in Guatemala are highly underpaid and more than anything the women from the highlands sell their weavings for pennys to people that resell them in the markets. Buy redesigning and bringing the products to new markets they obtain new value and recognition.
- Your purchase acknowledges their skills, craft and worth. Sometimes I feel like this is even more important than the money itself. Mayan women are a very marginalized group in Guatemala - their place in society, family and life. But these textiles and the fact that people honor that in a faraway country is a HUGE recognition of them and their existence.
- The connection of worlds - Oh it is a long way both in terms of kilometers and cultures between the Highlands and Denmark. But the connection between these two through meaningful and beautiful craft is amazing. Imagine these women having access to the West, they do see commercials from L’oreál or Maybelline, but it is not for them, it is not their World (I hope you know what I mean). But by creating high fashion products made by their hands, and then bringing them photos and videos to show – that is probably the biggest gift of all. Because they get super overwhelmed and proud of themselves, their craft and community. And that is powerful!
- No pitty purchase! We are all just humans. Born on different continents, in distinct cultures, with different gender perceptions and governments. Of course the women and I appreciate every single purchase made with PURA UTZ, but don’t purchase because it will change the world or because you have a bad conscious. Buy our products because you love a well made, luxurious and super cool product that is made by the original craftsmen – and then know, that this is not fast fashion, this is fashion with a purpose. Fashion that reconnects us!
- Keeping the craft tradition alive also plays a part of this. I think we can safely say that we have lost craft tradition in many parts of the world, especially in the West. This influence (and all our donation of used clothes) is also reaching places like Guatemala. But buy working with the textiles and exporting them, they are given new value and thereby we hope that the women will continue to teach this craft to their children, so that such an important part of history is not lost.
Women Are Women
A week ago I wrote ‘Women are Women’ in a post after visiting the rural community of Pasaquijuyup. It was the most heartfelt experience that I have had in a very long time. It is easy to lose sight of your path and the purpose of your project when you are in Denmark struggling with taxes, store closing, unfulfilling nursing jobs and your personal life that will bring you ups and downs.
But then you stand before twenty women that were born in Nahualá, twenty women that struggle the everyday life of poverty and discrimination (I mean, the government haven’t even put paved roads or a basic health care center out there- you have to drive three hours on rocky roads and jungle in a four-wheeled pickup truck to get to the nearest clinic). These women carry themselves with so much pride and power – but what always strikes me the most, is how much love and compassion they have. And that is what I think we all share, despite of distance, culture and language - AMOR!
We don’t speak each others languages, I speak Danish they speak Quiché, we don’t wear the same clothes, we don’t eat the same food – but we meet each other in a place of curiosity, respect and compassion, and that is why this project and my business is the greatest gift in my life. The gift of being a woman born in Denmark, sharing some of the ressources and well being we have, with the Mayan women is so very meaningful. It is all just a matter of compassion and love, and we all have that, and we can all give that.