EMPOWERMENT, LEADERSHIP AND SOCIAL JUSTICE THROUGH THE ANDEAN WOMEN’S MOUNTAINEERING MOVEMENT
In our “progressive” modern world, women continue to be discouraged from pursuing many of their hopes and dreams, especially in the developing world. Huarmirazu meaning “Women of the Ice-Capped Peaks,” in Quichua, was an effort for Ecuadorian females to reclaim themselves as powerful, strong women able to fulfill their aspirations.
On February 18, 2001 the first expedition of indigenous women reached the summit of Volcano Cotopaxi…the highest most active volcano in the world just shy of 20,000 ft. Four Andean women and two American women (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) all joined together to climb in celebration of women worldwide.
The Huarmirazu project began back in 1998 in which 2 poverty stricken, mountain communities located in the Imbabura province created projects to generate an income in order to take control over their social and economical situation. The New Seed project consisting of creative indigenous artisans recycle garbage into art and transform that into an income. Jambisacha, Quichua for medicinal forest, is made up of local women from another highlands community in which they harvest and market native medicinal teas from the Andean cloud forest. Both projects are bringing in desperately needed income for women and their families that provide an economic alternative that relies on the protection rather than the destruction of the environment including the Andean cloud forests, the most botanically diverse ecosystems on the planet. Rosa Elena Moreta and Maria Isabel Juma are presidents of these two community projects and were registered as being the first Ecuadorian indigenous women to attempt and summit Cotopaxi.
After touching snow for the first time in their lives and after reaching the top of the massive Cotopaxi, Rosa Elena and Isabel returned to their communities to educate others on their experience and how the ascent had empowered and impacted their lives. They both feel capable of accomplishing many things that they had never dreamed of.
Through these excursions Huarmirazu women:
1) Promoted confidence and self-esteem at the local level, while raising global awareness on the strengths and creativity that hide within these Andean villages
2) Strengthened women’s participation in the development of community and the approach to problem solving
3) Strengthened leadership skills of all women involved in climbing ascents
The women of Huarmirazu voluntarily act as catalysts towards social change in their communities and are hoping that other women will hear their story and too be inspired.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Ecuador
Dana Platin (1997-2000)
Kate Stephens (1998-2000)