Irania is breaking glass ceilings in Nicaragua

November 18, 2019

Irania is a strong advocate for rural women and youth. And by embracing leadership roles in the political sphere as a young woman, she’s also a source of inspiration for women and youth across Nicaragua.

Marvelí (community facilitator) and Irania (national level representative) with Irania’s son.

It usually comes as a shock to Canadians to learn that 95 per cent of the world’s farms are small. These farms are the main source of income and livelihoods for 2 billion people.

Small-scale farmers feed the world, producing a staggering 70 per cent of the world’s food on just 25 per cent of its farmland. Thanks to the diversity of landscapes and crops they preserve, they’re also the main guardians of our food biodiversity.

Irania Lira Benavidez grew up on one of these small-scale farms in the community of Casa Blanca, Nicaragua. Like other small-scale farmers around the world, Irania’s family and friends play an essential role in their region’s food security, health and environment. But also like the majority of small-scale farmers around the world, they are largely excluded from policy and decision-making processes influencing agriculture.

Women are especially marginalized at all levels of governance – a damaging gender gap that is recognized by the United Nations as a global phenomena.

Our partner organization in Nicaragua, FECODESA, works to change this. Like all of our partners, FECODESA’s work is guided by the principle of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is a framework that was articulated by farmers themselves to reverse systematic injustice in the food system. It calls for reclaiming farmers’ power over decision-making at all levels of government, as well as their access and control over land, water, seeds and food systems. And it takes a feminist and intersectional lens to these issues.

Irania decided to join one of FECODESA’s youth cooperatives when she was just 14 years old. Participants in these cooperatives are encouraged to pursue higher education. They receive training in governance and business development. They learn how to engage in policy advocacy by making space for themselves in municipal consultations.

Irania was immediately hooked by her training in collective decision-making and advocacy. She showed great dedication to learning about the policy-making process, and FECODESA’s facilitators helped her see that she had many of the natural qualities needed to become a good leader.

Irania realized that getting involved in local government was a real possibility for her, and that it would be a powerful way for her to create positive change in her community.

Encouraged by her peers, Irania ran for a seat on her region’s Council of Cooperatives. She won – an impressive and rare achievement for a young female campesina, or “peasant” as farmers in Honduras are proud to call themselves.

Irania’s early experiences with her youth cooperative have been transformative.

Many youth from her community suffer from a lack of opportunities for sustainable livelihoods near home. As is the case in many other communities of Latin America, many of them make the difficult decision to leave for the cities, or even foreign countries.

But at 25 years old, Irania remains firmly rooted in her farming community. Since becoming a young mother, her passion for representing the voices and rights of rural youth and women deepened. Recently, she set her sights on breaking through a new glass ceiling: a seat on the national Council of Cooperatives. She ran and again, she won.

Irania’s friend Marvelí went through the same FECODESA training as Irania when she was a teen. She is now also seeding change in her community, as a farmer and as the president of the local youth cooperative.

Marvelí is grateful for Irania’s dedication to advocating for her community at the national level. She says her achievements are inspiring young men and women farmers across Nicaragua.

“For us, it is a source of great pride to have a young campesina woman there.”