Confronting Gender in Microenterprise

Gender discrimination cuts both ways. In the developed world, we focus on the exclusion of women. Warm Heart’s early Microenterprise Project did, too. Simple observation, however, reveals a more complicated story. Here as in much of the developing world gender roles have made teenage boys and men the real losers and excluded them from a future.

Every activity that once defined masculinity has been devalued; every job that once gave them pride in their ability to support their families has disappeared.

They have no meaningful education or training opportunities open to them. They cannot begin to visualize themselves in the alien world and roles of modern men. Rigid class structures lock them out as “dark skinned menials.”

What do “men” do today? Smoke. Drink. Do drugs. Talk big.

Here “everybody knows” that men are worthless. Many microenterprise organizations will not work with men; many microfinance organizations will not lend to men.

We understand why. We just don’t believe that giving up on half the population is acceptable.

Our approach to the “men problem” is to seek the path of least resistance. Focus on the immediate problem – jobs – and the first order of business – restoring men’s confidence and dignity. There will be time to confront gender roles later, but for now, we can work with them. We can even make them work for us.

At Warm Heart, we are attempting to build men’s cooperatives to make “men’s” products. If women like gathering together to spin and make bracelets, what might men like to sit around doing? What can men do that is either more productive than just smoking and chewing the fat or at least can profitably be done at the same time?

Well, although women do most of the heavy lifting, construction is a “guy thing,” so we thought of construction stuff that guy coops can make.

Solution? Bricks, blocks and roofing materials made from Styrofoam cement. Easy and environment friendly to make as a group and profitable to sell. What more could you want?

Learn how to start your own microenterprise business with Repurposing Styrofoam.