Reflecting the CSW58 priority theme of “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls,” over the coming months Ecumenical Women will be posting stories about our individual member organizations’ efforts to implement the MDGs. This is our eighth installment, a story from EW member organization United Methodist Women has partnered with Acción Médica Cristiana to empower women and feed families in Nicaragua through a cow bank. What follows is a portion of the article and its accompanying video. You can find the complete article on UMW’s website here.

… During Acción Médica Cristiana trainings women started sharing concerns, needs and wishes and began looking for ways to improve their situation: Could they sell some of the produce they were growing? Start a small business? And what about having access to milk? For a poor peasant in Nicaragua, owning a farm animal is a synonym for wealth – and for a woman it is life changing.

Responding to these women, AMC contacted United Methodist Women, and the first 15 cows were provided in 2001. The groups agreed that the cows would be owned only by the women members, who would attend trainings to learn how to care for the animals and “pay back” the cow with the first offspring, which would be given to another woman of the group.

“We want the woman, not her husband, to own the animal,” said María Ruthbeli Pérez, 35, mother of two and coordinator of the project in San Joaquín. She explained that the norm was that the man owned all family property and had single-handed decision-making power. “During one of our visits with a family, the husband noted that when the cow gave birth the wife decided to sell the calf to buy a bull to use for breeding, and now she has more cows. Women have learned how to negotiate with their husbands, and husbands have recognized the value the women have for the sake of the family.”

“It has been a pleasure to meet the people from Acción Médica Cristiana,” said Emerita Garcia Mairena, 54. “I used to think that being a woman was not that important, that women did not have a chance to develop or own things. I thought that men were the only ones to own cattle. Now I know women also have rights. I used to think that because I was a homemaker, my job had no value. But now I know my value. I feel I am important.”

She and her husband have seven children and five grandchildren. Her first cow came in 2007, and now she owns three animals. “The original cow, another cow and a calf,” Ms. Mairena said, with a smile on her face.

Everybody in her house drinks the milk and eats cheese with their meals; whatever is not consumed is sold. The extra income makes a big difference. “I use the money to buy medicines for the cow and to buy chickens which give eggs for our food. I buy food for the chickens, and I also help my daughter who is in school. Before, only my husband would bring money to the house, but with the cows this has changed…”