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From villages to board rooms, Vital Voices Central America is preparing a new generation of women leaders

Alexandra Kissling & Maria Pacheco
McNulty Prize
Central America

Central American women are 1.5 times more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. In 4 out of the 6 countries in the region, one in three women face physical and/or sexual violence. Women are systematically excluded from jobs, with over half working informally without protection or fair pay. These women could act as economic powerhouses for both their families and the region, but due to unyielding cultural and economic barriers, only 39% of women ages 18-65 are part of the workforce. Vital Voices Central America is working to shift the narrative for women in the region, empowering them with the tools they need to succeed both economically and socially.

Chapters in Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama & Nicaragua
Women and girls reached
local programs instituted

MariaAlexandra-Headshot.png#asset:1854In 2008, Maria Pacheco was inspired to develop a chapter of Vital Voices to support women in Guatemala. Determined to transform the initiative into a regional movement, Maria invited other leaders to attend Central America’s first-ever Vital Voices conference, which resulted in the establishment of six chapters and a collective Vital Voices Central America network. Alexandra Kissling, a co-founder of Vital Voices Costa Rica, has been instrumental in formalizing the regional structure of the collective. Along with a coalition of over 60 Fellows of the Central America Leadership Initiative, Maria and Alexandra are changing the norms for women in Central American society.

Integrating women into national economies is a necessary part of the solution to our entrenched social problems.

Maria Pacheco

Each Vital Voices chapter runs context-specific programming—informed and guided by regionally-shared learnings—to enable the economic and social development of women. The programs are wide-ranging, both in scope and in topic: from improving conditions for rural women or refugees, to reproductive health, to spurring economic development through mentorship and leadership.

Altogether, the Vital Voices Central America network has touched the lives of over 100,000 women and their families, establishing resilient, nurturing communities; instilling critical skills in leadership, communication, and entrepreneurship; springboarding careers in both the private and public sectors; and transforming livelihoods across the region. Thanks to Vital Voices programs, women who once lived at the margins now own their own businesses—from tortillerias to fashion design companies. And the women directly involved in leading Vital Voices continue to break barriers as they fill prominent positions in government, participate in business chambers, and take on executive leadership roles in the private sector. Due in large part to their efforts, Central America continues to experience a catalytic shift in how its women are perceived: not as victims limited by restrictive cultural stereotypes and poverty, but as powerful actors capable of taking the initiative in their own lives.

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