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Creating jobs in rural areas
Equal opportunity, a priority for our area
José Maria Gómez-Caro and Manuel Soriano Huerta
Our area is part of the province of Toledo, 60 km south of Madrid. We have a population of 36,000 living on 1 655 km2 of land, which gives us a density of 22.3 inhabitants/km2. The fact that we are at the entrance to a region as vast and as large as La Mancha led our local action group to take the name "Don Quijote de la Mancha" ("Don Quixote of La Mancha"). We also chose this name because in the neighbouring LEADER area lies El Toboso, the village of the Hidalgo's lady-love, "Dulcinea", a name that the neighbouring local group took. Several centuries after this literary adventure, Don Quixote and Dulcinea are again on the road, this time in search of rural development, an adventure that their creator perhaps never would have imagined...
On this road to rural development, the integration of women into working life is a matter of prime concern. Unemployment in our area is particularly high - 15% of the working population - but it especially affects the unskilled and young people trying to land their first job. In both cases, women make up an important part of these groups. A growing number of them want to work but are unable to find a job because they lack the necessary skills.
Our area has been the site of important experiments. LEADER II, the regional programmes for training and employment and the European Community's NOW Initiative have enabled women to gain professional experience, but they have also benefited from a real political will and awareness among men that women play an important role in the local economy. We still have to rise to the challenge of equal opportunity, a pillar of our rural development policy.
In addition to our LEADER team, we can count on other local organisations which we actively work with and whose purpose is to provide counselling and training to those with the least opportunity so that they can find work and improve their living conditions. This is the case of the Training Centre of Villasequilla and the "Centre for the Integration and Employment of Women" (CIEM) of Noblejas.
A local study on the employment of women concluded that textiles could be a sector of great opportunity for women if they could set up their own cooperatives. However, financial problems and a lack of training have limited women's ability to do so. During the period 1996-1997, we worked with some forty women, studying what had to be done to make the cooperation profitable and encouraging the members to set objectives and define strategies to cope with changing fashion trends on the textile market. Today, three cooperatives and a limited liability company are continuing to develop in this direction.
One of the cooperatives, for example, was born of the initiative of three sisters who originally had just a small workshop. Today they are partners and employ 20 women aged 25 to 45 in a "real" clothing firm capable of designing its products while meeting the specific requests of its customers. LEADER injected about euros 30 000 in this operation.
Other exemplary cases of cooperation have revealed new ways of creating employment for women. With the women's organisations of the 15 towns of the LEADER area we discuss the new activities that need to be supported to try and create jobs for women. In addition to preparing women for work in a whole range of sectors, we also try to encourage women to set up their own business, helping them develop their capacity to do so.
To mention but a few of the successful examples of local partnerships, we have provided support for a young company that makes perfume, helped create what is soon expected to become one of the first labelled organic farms in the region, lent assistance to start up a unit that is again producing the traditional brick of our region (10 jobs) and backed the building of a senior citizens home (18 jobs). These are all projects by and for women working to create employment.
source: LEADER Magazine n°20 - Spring, 1999