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How to Help Empower Women of the World by Volunteering Abroad

Support of working women is an essential part of development
The empowerment and support of working women are key for development.

Want to make the most of a volunteer vacation? Consider volunteering to support women and girls.

Yes, poverty, discrimination, and hardship affect both men and women. But women and girls face additional obstacles. On the other hand, investments in women and girls have ripple effects through households, communities, and countries. Here are a few examples (statistics from www.usaid.gov and www.womendeliver.org):

  • Girls and women spend 90% of their earned income on their families, while men spend only 30-40%
  • Women with access to health care are more likely to seek health care for their children
  • When 10% more girls go to school, a country's GDP increases on average by 3%
  • When women have the same amount of land as men, crop yields increase by over 10%
  • Eliminating barriers to employment for women could raise productivity up to 25% in some countries
  • 5.2% of global GDP could be added to the world economy if domestic violence stopped
  • If an additional 600 million women and girls were online in the next three years GDP across 144 developing countries could be boosted by up to 13-18 million dollars

Naturally, there are the direct benefits of empowerment for women and girls—here are just a few:

  • Wages rise 20% for every year beyond 4th grade that a girl stays in school. For every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 15 to 25%
  • Girls who stay in school for seven or more years marry four years later and have two fewer children
  • Adequate health care helps prevent maternal deaths
  • Access to clean energy means shorter work days, indoor air pollution from open-fire cooking, dangerous journeys to collect firewood
Volunteer to help with maternal health care.
Maternal health care and well mother/well baby programs are critical to preventing maternal deaths and ensuring the well-being of families.

Volunteer Organizations Supporting Women's Empowerment

There are programs around the world that provide opportunities to women to improve their health, education and well-being, and many of them would love to have volunteers lend a hand. From teaching a job skill to providing marketing assistance to a women-focused NGO, whether helping girls and women learn English or supporting health care services in another country, there are endless ways to support women’s empowerment around the globe. The volunteer opportunities below are drawn from my book, Volunteer Vacations in Latin America, but also include links to organizations with global opportunities.

Awamaki is an organization working to promote sustainable development in and around the village of Ollantaytambo, Peru, not far from Cusco and Machu Picchu. It focuses on economic empowerment of disadvantaged Quechua women, taking a three-pronged approach: women’s cooperatives, sustainable tourism, and community education. Volunteers might teach English or computer skills, support a workshop that teaches household financial management or tourism hospitality skills, help out at the Awamaki Fair Trade shop, or even lead a hike through Incan ruins. Those interested in working with children can lend a hand at the local preschool.

Awamaki’s program is a well-thought-out combination of volunteering, learning, and cultural immersion, including:
  • Six hours per week of Spanish language instruction
  • Group discussions on relevant topics of culture and development
  • Instruction in basket weaving, Andean cookery, and backstrap weaving 
Service travel programs are US$1,250 for three weeks, and the classic volunteer program runs US$2,250 for ten weeks. This fee includes room and board, activities, and a significant contribution to the project work.
En Vía is “a non-profit organization working to fight poverty in Oaxaca, Mexico, by combining interest-free microloans, educational programs, and sustainable tourism.” Volunteers are needed to teach English to women and children in small villages near Oaxaca, and En Vía provides training and support, so no previous teaching experience is required.
  • Volunteers are expected to work five hours a day on both Tuesdays and Thursdays while having the rest of their time free for exploring Oaxaca and the surrounding area
  • Volunteers are also needed to work as tour guides and to help out with photography and program coordination
  • Volunteers are responsible for their expenses, but there is no fee to volunteer
There is plenty to explore in the Spanish colonial city of Oaxaca, where volunteers usually stay, as well as in the surrounding villages. 
Mayan Families provides “opportunities and assistance to the indigenous and impoverished people of Guatemala, through education and community development programs.”

Programs that support women and girls include:

  • The fair trade/artisan program
  • Beautician training
  • Microloans
  • Sewing school
  • Well mother/well baby
  • Reproductive health/family planning

Opportunities for volunteers are as varied as the organization’s work and include:

  • Carpentry
  • Information Technology
  • Assisting in preschools
  • Fundraising and marketing
  • Supporting Mayan Families’ student sponsorship/education program
  • Volunteering photography
  • Videography, or medical services
  • Working on monitoring and evaluation of programs
  • And much more

Panajachel is located on the rim of Lake Atitlán, about three hours from Guatemala City. In town, volunteers can study Spanish or backstrap weaving, or spend some time browsing the best handicraft selection in the country. Panajachel has very low crime rates and is a safe place to visit and volunteer.

There is no cost for individual volunteers, but they are responsible for their expenses. For groups, a minimum of US$200 per person donation is required, but local transportation and accommodation is provided. 
Spirit of the Andes trains indigenous women from marginalized neighborhoods in El Alto, La Paz and Cochabamba, Bolivia, to knit high-quality products from alpaca, llama, and cotton yarns.

Spirit of the Andes manages several projects aimed at empowering women, including:

  • Identifying and training women for the knitting project
  • Registering women and their families with the local health center
  • Training the women who are already involved with Spirit of the Andes in health and rights
  • Creating a support network for those who suffer domestic abuse
They also run a daycare center for the women who are knitting. Specific volunteer needs can vary, but generally Spirit of the Andes can use volunteers to help identify and reach out to international markets for the organization’s products, and Spanish-speaking volunteers to help out in the daycare. There is no fee associated with volunteering, but volunteers are responsible for their expenses.
A girl’s school in Tanzania
A girl’s school in Tanzania. © Engineering for Change / Creative Commons See the Engineering for Change website for volunteer and paid opportunities to use engineering for development.
A Broader View is a U.S.-based non-profit organization, offering a large array of programs, many of them specifically in support of women, including:
  • Vocational training
  • Midwifery and Maternal care
  • Daycare services
  • Support of teenage mothers
  • Rehabilitation for female prisoners
  • Shelter from domestic abuse
  • English skills
There are opportunities in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, and Tanzania.

Costs start at US$820 to US$1,070 for one week including room, board, cultural activities and weekend excursions. Volunteers normally work five days a week, eight hours per day. 
Cross-Cultural Solutions is an organization with over 20 years’ experience organizing and managing volunteer vacations, with more than 35,000 volunteer alumni. Their Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment project focuses on opportunities for females including
  • Education
  • Microfinance and development
  • Support for victims of violence
Programs are in Ghana, Guatemala, India, Morocco and Tanzania. Fees start at US$1,750 for one week and include living expenses, ground transportation, cultural activities and in-country excursions, and medical insurance. The CCS website offers tips on how to reduce or fundraise for the expense.
A girl’s school in Tanzania
Together with a work crew of mostly women, the author volunteered her time in Honduras to help build a home for a single mother in Honduras. Photo © Georganne Robertson.

For More Information

Those interested in women’s empowerment can find statistics, resources, and current information at:

Anyone who wants to support gender equality and women’s empowerment can check out the following Twitter accounts:


Amy E. Robertson Amy E. Robertson is the author of Volunteer Vacations in Latin America (2013, Moon Handbooks). Her writing has been published on NPR, Vice MUNCHIES, Budget Travel, Delta Sky, National Geographic Traveler, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor and Travel + Leisure, among others. Amy has lived in six countries and traveled in more than 60. Her volunteer experiences include building houses in Washington State and Honduras, monitoring presidential elections in Ecuador, working with youth on social documentaries in Bolivia, and serving lunch at soup kitchens in Seattle and Beirut. She has a background in international development and nonprofit management and has worked in both the private and nonprofit sectors.

You may see Amy's many articles for us, her numerous books, and her expanded bio page here.

 
 
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