Empowerment of women community leaders: an approach to field work.

  • Diana Morela Escobar Arias
  • Maria Belén Caballo Villar
  • Rita Gradaille Pernas


This paper presents the first approaches of the field work carried out in the doctoral thesis project that aims to make visible, from a qualitative perspective, the experience of women community leaders of the municipality of Yumbo-Colombia at the local level; as well as to investigate and demonstrate, the importance that education has had in its processes of empowerment and leadership. The completion of the phases of the field work is described and the achievements obtained are reflected.

The empowerment of women within this framework takes on relevance, in this research we understand it as a "process through which women increase their capacity to shape their own lives and environment, an evolution in women's awareness of themselves, their status and their effectiveness in social interactions" (Shuler, 1997, p. 29). Community leadership and participation appears as a fundamental element in women's empowerment processes, insofar as it is a way to influence the spaces where decisions are made and to ratify that they are also part of that community and their contributions must be taken into account.

In this order, Colombia is one of the countries that has ratified the commitment before the UN to promote initiatives for the empowerment of women in the most vulnerable communities and those affected by the armed conflict (León, 1997); considering that the impacts of this violence have transcended all areas of daily life, leaving an imprint on the entire population, but especially affecting the most vulnerable people. Inequality and social injustice are increasing as a consequence of the structural conditions that characterize Colombian society, such as the neoliberal development model, the patriarchal system, exclusionary modernity, the weakness of the state, the institutional crisis and the proliferation of drug trafficking and the armed conflict (Blair, 1999, p. 32). This affects the different spheres of life of Colombians and, with greater virulence, urban-marginal communities and rural contexts.

The research was descriptive-explorative and sought -through the biographical method- to make an approach to the biographical trajectory of women community leaders, with the intention of knowing how education has influenced their processes of empowerment and community participation in the municipality of Yumbo-Colombia. This circumstance required a direct interaction with them, carrying out in-depth interviews that made it possible to access their testimonies and to know their impressions regarding the subject studied.



The interview protocol was structured around thematic axes that addressed the experience lived from childhood to adulthood (Tojar, 2001); which allowed reconstructing the trajectory of community leadership of the women interviewed. Fifteen community leaders were selected to participate in the research. Two informative group meetings were held, followed by two sessions in which in-depth interviews were conducted with each of them.

The previous experiences in the Municipality of Yumbo allowed to know the internal dynamics of the neighborhoods to determine the suitable schedules to contact with the women, the appropriate places to carry out the meetings and, also, the security strategies that the researchers should adopt in this locality when there are groups to the margin of the law and "invisible frontiers" that condition the people outside this community to move freely by the territory. The fieldwork lasted four months: in the first month, the first contacts with the participants were established, and in the remaining three months, in-depth interviews were conducted. This approach will be of great importance, not only for the collection of information but also for the subsequent analysis of data (Moen and Middelthon, 2015). The fieldwork was articulated in two phases: the first one where agreements were generated with participants, in terms of participation and data processing signature. The second phase applied the pilot test to adjust the interview protocol, and subsequently collected all the information that took place in the homes of the leaders and in the communal booths of the different neighborhoods.

Yumbo is a Municipality that not only has to be recognized by the number of industries in it, but also by the potential of people who, in the interior of the city, can contribute to the construction of the social fabric from their experience.

Designing a work plan and reading the social dynamics in which communities find themselves is vitally important before entering the field. Likewise, constant dialogue and accommodating to their times was a key aspect to achieve the proposed objectives. In the same way, the qualitative methodology allowed an approach to the social realities experienced daily by community leaders, in terms of empowerment and community participation; giving them a voice and knowing, first hand, their impressions to design the change they aspire to in their respective communities since, as stated by Escudero (2013), life stories in qualitative research help to reveal the realities experienced by women not only at an individual level but also at a collective level.