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The Uruguayan countryside has always been a place of hard work for women, who traditionally occupied the lowest level of the social hierarchy. But this reality has changed as rural women emerge not only as members of the workforce, but also as an example of ingenuity and determination.
Starting with almost nothing, these women have managed to create successful self-managed small businesses with which they support their families. In a country where many women are the sole financial providers for their family, rural women, with tenacity and sacrifice, are building small businesses that offer novel and high-quality products to the market.
Manos del Uruguay
It all started with Manos del Uruguay [Hands of Uruguay], in 1968, when a group of rural artisans began selling their woven garments and traditional Uruguayan handicrafts. The enterprise blends the best of artisanal production with cutting-edge design, creating products coveted on the international market.
The brand Manos del Uruguay has found international success, receiving UNESCO's Seal of Excellence in 2012 for the quality of its products, and the 2013 Dynamic Eco Chic Design Award in the international design competition Mittelmoda de Milan for their innovations in textile design.
The Uruguayan Rural Women's Association (AMRU)
For their part, the Uruguayan Rural Women's Association (AMRU) brings together 1,800 women from all over the country, working in various agricultural and artisanal domains.
The majority of the association's member groups are dedicated to productive activities (the making of preserves, textiles, cheeses, ceramics, basketwork, wood carvings, paintings on canvas, etc.), while others focus on the social domain, working to improving local health services, education, and housing.
The objectives of this association include the defense of the rural family, the empowerment of rural women, and fostering the exchange of experiences and information with similar organizations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, where women also suffer marginalization and discrimination. One of the general principles maintained by the AMRU is the advancement of equality, especially gender equality, to support social inclusion.
A derivative of the AMRU, Delicias Criollas is a cooperative of rural women who make artisinal food products like preserves, cheeses, honey, and more. Their products enjoy widespread recognition for their use of organic ingredients and the highest standards of quality.
Founded in 2001, Delicias Criollas unites women from 14 groups from different parts of Uruguay, including Artigas, Canelones, Cerro Largo, Flores, Maldonado, Montevideo, Rocha, San José, Soriano, Tacuarembó and Treinta y Tres. Their products are sold in various parts of the country and include marmalades, jellies, pickled vegetables, dulce de leche, baked goods, and liqueurs made using traditional recipes.
Another example of rural women's entrepreneurship is the cooperative Calmañana from Canelones, which consists of three groups: Gardel, Tapia, and Pedernal. The cooperative includes 18 women dedicated to the production of agro-ecological aromatic and medicinal herbs with very successful market penetration.
At first, these women were looking for a job opportunity; twenty years later, they have their own brand and their herbs can be found in the country's main supermarkets. The cooperative also supplies various local laboratories, which use their herbs in medicinal formulas.
Mujeres Rurales de Pueblo Zeballos
Cooperatives continue to emerge, permitting rural women to become economically autonomous. Thus was born the group Mujeres Rurales de Pueblo Zeballos [The Rural Women of Zeballos], a small business emerging from a small, geographically isolated town on the banks of the river Gualeguay in the Paysandú region. This cooperative has developed a successful artisanal venture, making post-shearing coverings to protect sheep during adverse weather. The coverings are made of nylon silopac and can be used for an average of four years. The group earned a prize from the Ministry of Industry, Energy, and Mining for their entrepreneurial achievements.
The women of Pueblo Zeballos live in a poverty-stricken area, where they have electric light, but no potable water and no available jobs.
The women's raw materials are provided by El Tejar, a group that manages local agricultural production and is interested in seeing progress in the region. The Municipal Administration of Paysandú also contributes by making a city meeting hall available for the women to work in. The group invested the prize money in equipment that will allow them to increase production: the enterprise is beginning to grow in size and the women hope that the new equipment will help them meet the growing demand.