Sweet Success for a Woman in Colombia’s Sugar Sector
"I have learned to believe more in myself to increase my confidence as an entrepreneurial woman," Yaneth says, reflecting on the training.
In Colombia, women working in agriculture often face hazardous conditions, long hours, gender discrimination, and even gender-based violence or sexual harassment. Maria Yaneth Cuervo Marín (Yaneth) knew this wasn’t going to be her story.
In Yolombó – Antioquia, Yaneth works in the brown sugar (panela) sector, which generates the most employment in Colombian agriculture after coffee. For the last six months, she has been an active participant and community leader as part of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs’ Vamos Tejiendo project, implemented by PACT.
The project is empowering women, girls of legal working age, and their families and communities by increasing their knowledge and understanding of labor rights and improving access to labor and social protections.
Yaneth was one of almost 200 women working in the panela and cut flower sectors to complete a labor rights training. She was trained on communication and leadership skills, as well as violence prevention in the workplace and the unequal burden on women of household labor.
The project also engages families on ways to share tasks at home, so women have more opportunities to earn income and become more empowered in the workplace. And the project works with employers to ensure labor rights are respected and the employer’s policies and practices are supportive of women workers, including measures to prevent violence and discrimination.
For Yaneth, learning about labor rights and building new skills has been formative.
“I have learned to believe more in myself to increase my confidence as an entrepreneurial woman,” she says, reflecting on the training.
She also participated in a technical skills course where she learned how to transform sugarcane into products – like honey, candies, cereal bars, and chocolates – that she could sell as an entrepreneur, in addition to other income-generating activities like selling animals and turmeric. She has since formed a small enterprise with six other women who make and sell these goods.
Photo: Yaneth with some of the women she partnered with to make products derived from panela. They are holding a sweet made from sugarcane honey and coconut.
“I am motivated to get ahead, help my family, and see my community prosper,” she explains.
When it comes to benefiting others, Yaneth says she also sees a link between the skills and knowledge she is gaining through the Vamos Tejiendo project and the outlook for the next generation.
“To the extent that we women are more aware of our rights and have opportunities for entrepreneurship and more income in our homes, our children will have more time to study and not see the need to work from an early age,” she reflects. “We want them to thrive.”