Meet our new country director of Nicaragua as she opens up about overcoming challenges girls and women face in our programs and at home
By Patrick Canagasingham, CEO & child sponsor firstname.lastname@example.org
#PressforProgress was one of the hashtags making the rounds for International Women’s Day last week, and it’s continuing to resonate with me.
At Christian Children’s Fund of Canada, we’re learning more needs to be done to break down gender barriers. Although we’ve been working on gender issues for years, we acknowledge enough hasn’t been done. So, we’ve resolved to do more to ensure women around the world enjoy the same rights as men.
In our offices in Canada, Central and South America, Africa and Asia, we’re committed to setting a standard for equality. We give equal consideration and respect for the experience all candidates bring to their work. That was the case for Maria Isabel Lopez who begins onboarding as our new country director for Nicaragua today.
Maria Isabel has extensive leadership experience in the international development sector, including various senior roles at World Vision. That success is supported by her strong academic achievements: Master of Social Management for Programs and Polices, Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Bachelor of Business Administration degrees.
I caught up with her recently to chat about what it’s meant to #PressforProgress on her life’s journey, and she also shared her vision for CCFC.
Tell me about yourself
I was born in a very small city called Boaco in Nicaragua. My parents were hardworking teachers raising eight children. So, after I graduated from high school, even though I dreamed of going to university and becoming an engineer, my parents could not afford my studies. But, they taught me good values and to pursue my dreams even while facing poverty. With their support, I applied for a scholarship opportunity founded by an American couple. After a rigorous screening process, I was deeply grateful to win the funding. Since then, I’ve committed to co-creating life-changing opportunities for children, adolescents, youth and women.
Have you faced obstacles as a female leader?
I’ve faced challenges based on unrecognized gender stereotypes. There are preconceived ideas that women are less talented, less suited for challenging assignments, et cetera. Female leaders are expected to behave a certain way in a patriarchal culture and that includes how we relate to others, express ourselves and make decisions. Sometimes I feel pressure to act like a man.
It’s easier to overcome these challenges when you have family support. But, I dream of a time when the world will be free of gender stereotypes, when women can make decisions — about resources, finances, healthcare, job opportunities and more — without fear of judgment. I also believe there will be a time when girls and women will have more opportunities to access education, take risks and explore their potential. There is still a long way to go. It will require perseverance. I’m glad to be a part of CCFC’s mission to affect change in this area.
Gender disparity impedes development, and we need to close that gap. How do you hope to improve the lives of women in our programs?
I will consider needs, priorities, hopes and contributions of women and girls in all aspects of our programming with project models that intentionally promote gender equality. Our programming must ensure women can control resources, participate in decision-making spaces and access services that enhance their well-being and development. I’ll foster a culture that reflects a deep and intentional commitment to gender equality. To close the gap, our team will work with men and boys, too.
Can you tell supporters more about why it’s so important to educate boys and men?
It’s key to engage men and boys to raise awareness about unequal gender relations and to challenge social norms learned by a patriarchal culture. It’s important men and boys join gender-equality initiatives at home, at work and within their cultural and social communities to create positive outcomes for women and girls.
What are your hopes for girls and women?
I hope girls and women have opportunities to reach their full potential and dream big — that they will be empowered to overcome difficulties and be free to experience joy and peace.
Welcome to the team, Maria Isabel. We’re looking forward to your leadership, particularly the influence you’ll have in bringing positive change to the communities where we work.