As the Director of the Municipal Office for Women of Livingston, Guatemala, Feve Cabnal is a devoted advocate for female empowerment. Read about her work and collaboration with EcoLogic to provide opportunities for women across three communities in Livingston, and what inspires her to keep up the fight.
By Beaujena Stoyanchev
Combatting climate degradation and building a more sustainable future goes beyond protecting and restoring our environment. If we want to make a sustainable change, that change needs support from all areas in our communities. It is well-established that gender equality and female empowerment are crucial in our fight for a sustainable future, but in communities across the globe and particularly in Latin America, cultural norms and established expectations can block the full potential of collaboration across genders.
As a Maya Q'eqchi' woman hailing from the community of Punta Arena in the Municipality of Livingston, Feve Cabnal has worn many hats in a variety of spaces over the course of her career — from working in advocacy for Indigenous women, to teaching in local communities, to working for NGOs like ASOPROGAL and CISP. Throughout these experiences, what drives her work is her passion for female empowerment– advocating for women’s rights and equality, in tandem with a passion for environmentalism and sustainability.
Feve now serves as the Director of the Municipal Office for Women of Livingston, in the Izabal Department of Guatemala. In that role, she has been a strong ally for EcoLogic and its key partner APROSARSTUN to develop women-led environmentally sustainable small enterprises with three local communities in Livingston.
The collaboration began with a proposal by EcoLogic’s Program Officer Mario Ardany de Leon and Sarstun Field Technician Eliazar Bo Che, who approached the Municipal office with the project idea. When they took office in 2020, Feve felt like they were starting from nothing. Since 2021, this initiative has grown. As we close the pilot phase, we have collaborated to establish three Women’s Committees (Comités de Mujeres), one for each community, to implement a variety of initiatives to train and equip local women to be able to have a tangible impact in their local economies and governance – and ultimately with the tools to make a difference in their communities.
Feve (far left) works to build the administrative, financial, and organizational capacities of women across Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala.
As Feve reflected, the same challenges that create the need for this project also produce obstacles to its implementation– from geographic accessibility to cultural norms. Logistically, transportation between communities can be incredibly difficult, given the distance between them and that transportation into these communities requires boat access. Beyond that, however, it can be challenging to overcome cultural norms and expectations facing women–even being able to leave the home can be difficult, where women may need to get permission from their spouses and have to consider their children and the responsibilities they’re temporarily leaving.
However, from these challenges emerges an urgency to make progress. In our interview with Feve, she was proud to acknowledge the project’s accomplishments thus far. She was inspired by their commitment to the initiative, their will to move it forward, and their pride in what they achieved.
The community leadership structure, known as COCODES (Consejo Comunitario de Desarrollo) is primarily run by men. As a result, community initiatives tend to prioritize sports fields or roads, which do not necessarily address women’s priorities. As the Women’s Committees have become more organized and established they have gone directly to the Mayor to advocate for their interests and make direct petitions, a first for many of them. This allows the needs of the community to be balanced between genders.
The administrative, financial, and technical skills the women have developed are fostered through participation in the Committees and the capacity-building process implemented by the project partners. For example, through this process, the Women’s Committee of Sarstun Creek opted to establish a community corn mill.
“Before this, they did not have their own mill. They had to walk long distances to other villages to grind their corn. They can now say that they are entrepreneurs. It is a learning process. They have the will to continue and move on,” says Feve.
Building a Sustainable Future
Beyond just harnessing skills, these activities are oriented towards teaching sustainable production and consumption. Thus, the initiative itself addresses several of EcoLogic’s key initiatives, Economic Incentives, Healthy Homes, and Capacity-Building, as women learn to provide for their families, alter their activities to be more sustainable, and gain voices and tangible influence within their communities and local governance.
Even now, Feve’s greatest inspiration is her mother, Lola Cabnal, who is an established environmental activist and accomplished advocate for Indigenous and women’s rights. To Lola, and certainly now Feve, there is no difference between feminism, climate activism, or Indigenous empowerment. What it boils down to is the restoration of a balance between what we take, give, and our relations. The opportunity to empower the local women creates space and restores the power that we can all have to make change in our communities.
As we conclude, Feve notes “In the end, climate change directly affects rural women. It is a process of raising awareness so that they understand their role and can be actively involved.”
We are grateful to the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MARFund) for its support and collaboration in this project.
Beaujena Stoyanchev is a junior at Boston University with a passion for social and environmental justice that places Indigenous and rural communities at the forefront of proposed solutions. She is studying International Relations with a focus on Environment/Development and a regional concentration in Latin America, with additional minors in Spanish and Environmental Policy. As a Content Intern with EcoLogic, she helps establish and grow EcoLogic’s online and social media presence, while also getting a chance to learn more about the technical aspects of the organization’s work.