WomensDayQuote-300x255The following piece is part of our ‘Women Around the World Inspiring Change’ blog series that will run until Mother’s Day 2014.

So far, we have featured a women’s group in Nogales, Mexico Hogar de Esperanza y Paz/Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC),  María Estela Barco Huerta, an incredible leader of DESMI (Desarrollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas), and a partnership between the Fair Trade company, Equal Exchange, and women in the 10 primary societies of Gumutindo Coffee Co-op in Uganda.

Now, meet the women behind a Fair Trade tagua jewelry business in Bogota, Colombia.

Tagua Artisan and Business Woman Lizzie Zuniga

Tagua Seed Jewelry Artisan and Business Woman Lizzie Zuniga

Arriving from the airport into the Colombian capital city of Bogota, the main avenue is lined with the brilliant color of public art.

Every wall along Avenida Gaitan (named after the populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan) tells a bold story of armed conflict and the resilience of the peoples’ movement for peace and justice.  I was in Bogota to spend time with the artisans who produce the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store’s line of Fair Trade tagua seed jewelry.  In one mural an indigenous woman, wrapped in the cloth of her cultural heritage, outstretches her hands to the cars rushing past.  The word Esperanza”, or “Hope, is painted in neon behind her. The women artisans we have partnered with in Bogota are working for just that.

Tagua Seed Pod

Tagua Seed Pod

Lizzie Zuniga moved to Bogota from Chiquinquira, a small town in the Western Boyaca Province located three hours north from the capital city.  She and her partner Nicolas survived their first years in the city making and selling tagua seed jewelry in the street.  Tagua seeds grow wild in Boyaca and when Lizzie and Nicolas moved to the city they depended on this natural resource of their homeland to sustain their new urban livelihood.

Whole Tagua seeds that have been died  green

Whole Tagua seeds that have been died green

Tagua seeds grow in large pods on the trunk of Ivory Palms.  The seeds remain gelatinous until the pod falls to the ground, where it can be peeled open to harvest the hard, smooth white seeds.  Lizzie explains to me that the harvest cannot be rushed, as the resilience of the seeds depends on their full maturation.  And so her business in Bogota grew, slowly and organically, with the tagua seed at its heart.

In her own words:

“Tagua is where I am from.  It is part of my family and who I have become.  On two different occasions when Nicolas and I had nothing, no shelter or food, we were able to rise and stand with tagua.”

Tagua seeds thinly sliced, dyed and ready to be made into jewelry

Tagua seeds thinly sliced, dyed and ready to be made into jewelry

Today Lizzie runs a sustainable ten-year old business that employs seven artisans in the full-time production of tagua jewelry.  She has partnered with a friend from Chiquinquira, who transports the tagua harvested by local farmers during their off-season, to the city where is it sorted, peeled, tumbled smooth and sliced into slabs in her workshop.

Mother of three, expert dyer, and business woman Sandra Navarette

Mother of three, expert dyer, and business woman Sandra Navarette

Sandra Navarrete has worked with Lizzie for four years in all stages of tagua jewelry production.  She has developed a full knowledge of the trade and considers herself a master artisan and business woman.

In her own words she describes her position:

I find purpose and possibility in my work.  I am a mother to three daughters and I am very proud that I have developed the capacity and confidence to run a business.  I know all the processes involved.”

She has chosen to work in the dying of the tagua slabs, a highly technical process in which eco-friendly dies are used to set brilliant reds, greens, and indigos. Sandra’s favorite color is purple, though the perfect red is the color she finds the most challenging to achieve.

The Lizzie Penant cut from Tagua Seed and available now is stores or as part of our Mothers Day Gift of Membership program

The Lizzie Pendant cut from tagua seed and available now in the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores or as part of our Mother’s Day Gift of Membership program

The final product is a sustainably sourced, elegant piece of Fair Trade jewelry that can be sold to sustain a growing community of artisans that have relocated to Bogota from outside provinces.  A large population of people, displaced from rural areas by decades of political violence in Colombia, lives in deep poverty on the outskirts of Bogota.  The women of these communities are rising to create a future for their families through their work as artisans.  In Lizzie’s case, she stays connected to the earth and her origins through the seeds that she works with.  For her, tagua is a seed of hope or esperanza

Stop in the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store in Berkeley this Mother’s Day to pick out your favorite from a wide selection of tagua jewelry pieces handmade with love by Lizzie and Sandra.  My favorite is the Lizzie pendant, cut in the shape of a tree from a tagua seed, which comes in all colors.


You can make your Mama proud this Mother’s Day by gifting her a Fair Trade ‘Proud Mama’ gift box that includes the Lizzie pendant, along with a Putumayo “Women of the World” music CD, Fair Trade Equal Exchange chocolate bar, and a tin of Proud Mama coffee from Equal Exchange.

Get your Proud Mama Gift Box today!

Pachamama Women's Group, Ecuador

Today the world reflects for a moment to honor women. We bear homage to women who have made a difference in their communities; women that have struggled and resisted discrimination and injustice; women that have succeeded in the face of immense social, political and economic odds.  As Global Exchange’s blog said today, “we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future” and in the quotes of our everyday heroines we acknowledge the struggle and the love that inspires us to organize, educate and sacrifice for our children, community, nation and planet.

Visiting with Lucy from Generacíon, in Lima, Peru

As a human rights advocate and someone blessed to have travelled the globe, I have seen how women across the world bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s material poverty and are usually the most vulnerable socioeconomically.  Indeed despite all the progress the women’s movements have made, we still have a lot of work todo. Just look at the UN Women’s proclamation today and spend a few moments reviewing their decades of  data. Clearly, women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of the systematic discrimination they face in decision-making, politics, education, healthcare, employment, and control of assets that often transcends physical borders.

Girl with Nan in Kabul, Afghanistan

All Reality Tours offer an in-depth look at the reality of destination countries through direct observation and engagement of the host society, however  we are instructive with our program officers to include women as speakers, and include women’s organizations, into the itineraries. For us, this is about balance and inclusion.

Women Cultivating Tea, Nepal

Have women’s lives improved since the downfall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001? To what extent are women represented in the government in South Africa today? Are women and girls benefiting from the new education, health and job training programs that have been launched in Venezuela? Why are women and girls 80% of those being trafficked around the world today? How are economic reforms in Cuba effecting women? These are some of the questions that are explored on upcoming Reality Tours that examine women’s rights and gender discrimination.

Lastly, let me extend my deep admiration and gratitude to some the phenomenal women around the world that work their magic with us as program officers and advisors: Delia (Argentina), Marsha (Afghanistan), Virginia and Maisa (Brazil), Fan (China), Marta (Costa Rica), Isabel and Michelle (Cuba), Karen (Ireland), Annie (Guatemala), Rae (Haiti), Mala (India), Parvaneh (Iran), Faiza (Iraq & Jordan), Tasha (Jamaica), Noelia (Nicaragua), Hwayoung (North Korea), Lucy (Peru), Myesha (South Africa), Wanjinku (Uganda),  and Nhu (Viet Nam). You inspire me!

Happy International Women’s Day. Today we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

To mark this occasion, below are quotes by women including a few from some of our Human Rights Award People’s Choice nominees. (Remember, voting is open now until March 19, 2012 @ 5pm so go online to vote for your human rights hero OR nominate your own.)

A good quote can inspire you. Some give you goose bumps. Others clarify the complicated or challenge your thinking. Some just make you feel good inside.

Here are a few I picked out in honor of International Women’s Day:

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~Anne Frank

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~Maya Angelou

I think the key is for women not to set any limits.” ~Martina Navratilova

One’s feelings waste themselves in words; they ought all to be distilled into action… which bring results.” ~ Florence Nightingale

As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” ~Virginia Woolf

Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” ~Janis Joplin

I can honestly say that I was never affected by the question of the success of an undertaking. If I felt it was the right thing to do, I was for it regardless of the possible outcome.” ~ Golda Meir

Quotes by Human Rights Award People’s Choice Nominees

Never say there’s no hope. Hope disappears only when you say there’s no hope.” ~Asmaa Mahfouz

They call me hard headed, (but) I’ve never lost faith or hope.” ~Semeiyan Lulu Mashua

I strongly believe that love is the answer and that it can mend even the deepest unseen wounds. Love can heal, love can console, love can strengthen, and yes, love can make change.” ~Somaly Mam

Profit is not necessarily measure(d) in dollars, yen, baht or pounds, but in the amount of good you have done in the lives of others. What’s your currency worth to you?” ~Alezandra Russell

“I think we have to rethink the concept of “leader.” ‘Cause “leader” implies “follower.” And, so many– not so many, but I think we need to appropriate, embrace the idea that we are the leaders we’ve been looking for.” ~ Grace Lee Boggs


  • Do you have a favorite quote by or about women? Share away in the comments section.
  • Don’t forget to vote for your human rights hero. You’ve got less than 2 weeks to nominate and vote. Why not do it right now?

Lilia and Women in Kabul, Afghanistan 2007

This International Women’s Day Global Exchange commemorates our 10 Year Anniversary of building people-to-people ties in Afghanistan. Last year marked the 10th year of US involvement  in Afghanistan and US foreign policy promoted us to think how we could educate and advocate against US militarism and occupation. Thus in 2002, in response to the popular justification that we were at war “for the women of Afghanistan”, Reality Tours decided to create delegations so our members could see reality on the ground for ourselves. Our “Women Building A Nation” was born; the first solidarity gender focused delegation included women who had left Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Soviet Union invaded, US women interested in women’s development and micro-finance, a concert producer and a celebrity, all committed to spread the word after they returned.

Laura & the Carpet Dealer in Kabul, 2004

As we honor a decade of relationship building, friendship and learning and while we recommit ourselves to work for peace. We thank our program officer Najib whose energy, intelligence, humor and commitment continue to inspire us and our primary partner organization Afghans4Tomorrow who continue to build awareness and grassroots community development projects. Over the next few weeks we will highlight a few of our past participants thoughts.

Today we feature Asma Nazihi Eschen, a recent delegate and Co-Founder of Bare Root Tree Project for Afghanistan,

I had the best experience in Afghanistan when I participated in the Global Exchange Reality Tour.  The tour was organized for a group of 9 people to see and meet different entities, from high government officials to grassroots NGO that are working in Afghanistan to improve the lives of those living in this war torn country. Najib our tour leader was one of the best persons that I have ever met. He made sure that we were safe, comfortable, and that we could see and do all the things that we requested of him. Everything was incredible; from seeing the RCR hospital and meeting with Masooda Jalilie, the Women’s Affairs Minister, to exchanging with the students of Ashuina (street children’s school) and attending the reopening of the Kabul University for Women. 

Najib, also gave us a tour of an old village north of Kabul that had not suffered physical damage by the civil war or the Taliban. This was truly an experience to see how this Afghan community had lived without being physically impacted by war and  the foreign hands that has affected the psyche of most Afghans in Kabul. Traveling in Afghanistan is safe and Najib knows how to work with both his GX delegates and the locals to make sure all parties have the best exchanges so the experience will be in the fabric of one’s mind to remember for life. Najib has great sense of humor that soften the harsh realities that were sometimes too difficult for us Westerners to bare them. I’m very grateful for Global Exchange’s Reality Tours that gives people like me an opportunity to travel places that most of us to scared to go by ourselves, or even to scared to think about going there. Continue organizing the Reality Tours for us because it opens our hearts and minds to the world and its people. 

To all our alumni like Asma, we thank you for your commitment to citizen diplomacy and dialogue with the Afghan people. Are you ready to  join us?

Carleen and Mom Helen (front left) meet with teachers in Afghanistan

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, first celebrated in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland in 1911, to recognize the social, political and economic achievements of women in the past and present.

The self titled “Global hub of International Women’s Day events and information” www.internationalwomensday.com lists thousands of events around the planet, 200 in the US alone, to celebrate and honor the achievements and struggles of women around the world.

I first felt the importance and solidarity of celebrating International Women’s Day while visiting Afghanistan with my mother on a Women Making Change Global Exchange Reality Tour in 2005. For 10 days we traveled in and around Kabul, visiting schools for girls, women’s organizations, women’s small business cooperatives and councils, doctors active in female health educations, advocacy organizations and government agencies working to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan after the Taliban rule.

At that time in Afghanistan, there was a feeling of hope and genuine sense that progress was being among those we met with. It was a truly unique experience to share International Women’s Day with incredible mothers, daughters, grandmothers, leaders and heroines. Stories of enormous personal tragedy were shared with emotion and outrage, but often with a sense of courage and struggle within the movement for global women’s rights. It was also an incredible gift to share this experience with a woman who inspires me every day, my mother.

Annually at Global Exchange, we celebrate the achievements of international and domestic human rights leaders and honor those effecting social justice in the world at a Human Rights Awards event. Today, as we prepare for the 2011 Human Rights Awards on June 1, we reflect on some past women honorees:

  • Mu Sochua MP, a Parliamentarian of the opposition party Sam Rainsy Party, Sochua has fought tirelessly for human rights and women’s rights in Cambodia.
  • Samina Faheem Sundas, who founded American Muslim Voice in response to the fear and hatred expressed toward Muslims in the wake of 9/11.
  • Alice Walker– Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, teacher and activist, is internationally acclaimed for her vivid depictions of black women’s struggles against sexism, racism and poverty.
  • Cindy Sheehan and Gold Star Families for Peace– Channeling their grief into action, Cindy Sheehan and Gold Star Families for Peace have galvanized the anti-war movement, demanding answers from Bush about the legitimacy of the war.
  • Diane Wilson – Texas shrimper who founded unReasonable Women and has fought for peace and environmental justice
  • Kathy Kelly – Founder of Voices in the Wilderness, which sought to end the Iraq embargo and save Iraqi children.
  • Arundhati Roy – Author and outspoken peace activist from India.
  • Barbara Lee – Courageous congresswoman who voted against the war in Afghanistan.
  • Bianca Jagger – Long time peace activist who travels widely to shine a light on unjust conditions.
  • Claudia Smith – Founder of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, she is a tireless advocate for immigrants at the border between the US and Mexico
  • Digna Ochoa y Placido -– was a human rights attorney who gave her life defending peasant farmers in Mexico.

I’ve always been skeptical about annual ‘one day’ celebrations, but after my Reality Tour experience in Afghanistan, I started taking time each International Women’s Day to acknowledge women past and present who work to ensure that women live better lives. History is important.

Make a mark today and nominate your human rights hero to Global Exchange’s 2011 People Choice Award. Nominations are open and details are here. Winners will be announced at the Human Rights Awards on June 1.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’ll be joining others at 4:30pm at 16th and Mission Street in San Francisco  today on a march to End Poverty, Criminalization, War and Occupation.

What are you doing to celebrate International Women’s Day? Feel free to share your plans and experiences in the Comments section.

To bread and roses, take action and Happy International Women’s Day!

In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 8th, Global Exchange is teaming up with farmer-owned chocolate company Divine Chocolate to celebrate the women of Divine’s farmer collective, Kuapa Kokoo. This Spring, Divine will be donating a portion of their sales to the Kuapa Kokoo’s Women’s Project; they’re teaching women cocoa farmers how to start small businesses, earn extra family income, and feel tremendous pride. You can show your support by purchasing Divine Chocolate 3.5 oz bars at the San Francisco Global Exchange Store (map) for the month of March, and we’ll give you $1.00 off!

Supporting Divine Chocolate and the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative is supporting real farmers, and not simply a chocolate company. Divine is the only Fair Trade chocolate company that is 45% owned by farmers. While being certified Fair Trade ensures that farmers receive a better price for their cocoa, company ownership gives farmers a share of Divine’s profits!

The partial liberalization of Ghana’s cocoa market in the early 1990s created a unique situation for cocoa farmers to organize in an industry where their voices were not being heard. Visionary farmer Nana Frimpong  Abrebrese organized a group of farmers to pool resources and set up a farmer’s co-op, which would trade its own cocoa, and thus manage the selling process more efficiently than the government cocoa agents. Kuapa Kokoo, which means “good cocoa growers,” was born.

In 1997, the reputable and fast-growing Kuapa Kokoo’s farmer collective had another idea. If they could manage a cocoa-farming cooperative, why not manage a chocolate company?

Divine Chocolate was born. Now a leading Fair Trade brand, Divine has given its farmers a secure source of Fair Trade income. Kuapa Kokoo invests in building schools, sinking wells and clean drinking water for villages, providing mobile medical clinics for farmers in remote growing regions, and fostering women’s income generation projects to help women earn additional income for their families when the cocoa season is over.

You can celebrate the women of Kuapa Kokoo this spring by purchasing Divine Chocolate at San Francisco’s Global Exchange Store! $1.00 off all 3.5 oz bars for the month of March.

International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8th. Being a business run by a small group of women (in quantity and in height) promoting Fair Trade, which benefits women artisans worldwide, International Women’s Day is a big one for us.

So, in honor of this special day, we will be highlighting the different stories of the Fair Trade women’s cooperatives that we work with that have seen Fair Trade give them more equality, empowerment and a better life for them and their families.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, you can check out our selection of products made by these women artisans in our International Women’s Day section.