Julio Nishikawa, Head of Women’s Economic Empowerment, Nutrition and Food Security Program, CARE Peru

CARE was set up over 70 years ago and is working in 90 countries to eradicate poverty, save lives, and achieve social justice. As an organization it has been widely acknowledged for its unshakeable commitment to people’s dignity. Specifically, CARE Peru has four work areas that reflect its multidisciplinary efforts to achieve its targets and that respond to key indicators aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. These are: women’s development and economic inclusion and food security; social inclusion and vulnerable populations; climate change, the Amazon and water resource management; and risk management and emergency response.

"The pandemic has made more visible the digital and financial gaps that prevail in the rural and peri-urban environment, where the highest rates of inequality and poverty are to be found"

Julio Nishikawa is an agricultural engineer, with a master’s degree from Peru’s Pontificia Universidad Católica (PUCP) in Social Management, and doctoral studies in Environment and Sustainable Development from that country’s Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal (UNFV). He has attended specialized courses in Marketing Management at ESAN university, in production chain competitiveness from the US organization USAID, impact evaluation and environmental assessment from Canada’s MEGAM, management of community relations and prevention of environmental conflicts in society at Business Solutions Group Peru, and social responsibility (Peru 2021). 

He has extensive experience in the design, implementation, and assessment of sustainable development projects with International Cooperation and the corporate sector, favoring a gendered approach and intercultural outlook, particularly in economic inclusion and productive development, with a territorial and environmental perspective. 

As an international organization committed to eradicating poverty, CARE has a very strong focus on driving gender equality. What are your current priorities? How have these changed or evolved as a result of the pandemic?

For our organization, working for the empowerment and economic independence of women in vulnerability is one of our key strategies in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals in Peru. It is the women who push through the transformational changes that are needed to improve living standards in homes and communities, to contribute effectively to eradicating hunger and reducing poverty. 

Innovations in digital and financial technologies are intrinsic to our program, necessary tools in our interventions to bring about greater access to finance and, above all, to the development of entrepreneurial and productive competences with a gendered approach. The current context, influenced by the Covid-19 crisis, has led us to develop and apply several digital solutions and virtual training methods to bring entrepreneurial women into contact with new technologies, virtual markets, financing opportunities and useful information about the trends and economic opportunities they can access for their businesses. 

The pandemic has without a doubt made more visible the digital and financial gaps that prevail in the rural and peri-urban environment, where the highest rates of inequality and poverty, and limited access to financial and non-financial support services, are to be found. At CARE Peru we have focused on making progress towards digital and financial inclusion, transferring from face-to-face training and technical assistance mechanisms to the predominant use of digital communications tools. A range of different virtual tools have been applied and developed in the course of this experience to strengthen entrepreneurial capacities through financial education modules. That is what we did with the “Lista” app for mobiles and tablets, developed by our strategic partner Fundación Capital, while we are currently at the development stage of new apps such as “Emprende App”, the “EmpreSara” platform, and “SkillEd”, all of which will be applied in our gendered-approach training programs. 

Several communications channels with entrepreneurial women have been activated using WhatsApp groups, Zoom, Facebook, tablets, mobile messaging, and phone calls, as well as public information broadcasts on local radio stations, leafleting and educational materials printed especially for those homes without internet access [1]. These actions have been spearheaded through the projects in CARE Peru’s women’s economic empowerment program and they are coordinated with the various public and private actors present in the territories where we intervene. 

Women play a key role in rural development as stewards of the land and custodians of food security.  Nevertheless, although 60 million women in Latin America produce 80% of the region’s food, only 30% of them own land, and a mere 5% have access to technical assistance. Could you summarize what needs to change to close these access gaps?

In the last few decades and particularly during the pandemic, these and other associated gaps, such as access to formal lending and to group marketing, have been widening. Structural changes about land ownership and efforts to rectify these inequalities are increasingly complicated because demographic growth is speeding up, especially in city areas where the spaces for farming are shrinking. This is further aggravated by the hereditary succession of farming land, which causes fragmentation, weakens the aggregation of supply and favors men’s ownership over women’s. 

During the pandemic, it became obvious that women’s burden of housework and unpaid care work had increased significantly as a result of working from home and remote learning for girls and boys of school age. Likewise, women were also very affected by the surge in domestic violence and the adverse economic effects of the pandemic, and especially by their greater exposure to working in unsafe conditions.  

Against this backdrop, solutions should be directed towards fomenting equitable conditions for the fair and equal use of productive resources and family assets. Ownership over land should not be a limitation to empowering farming women. We see very clear examples of women who rent land to produce and access the market on a competitive footing, women who without having land title successfully assume leadership and the management of family plots. 

We have seen that supply in the formal financial market predominates mainly in the urban and peri-urban environment; therefore other important challenges in the financial inclusion area are the need to extend access to financial services, as well as technical assistance to the country’s rural areas. 

Financial literacy programs, whether run by the state and non-governmental organizations or the corporate sector, must be expanded, with an emphasis on saving, financial health and the understanding of, and information about, the various services and financial products available. 

New financial products tailored to women users’ specific needs for different topics and territorial realities must be created:

  • With high flexibility in the matter of limited land ownership and the absence of collateral 
  • That overcome the limitations associated with low educational level, illiteracy and requirements that are frequently unnecessary 
  • That are implemented using strategic territorial partnerships in the framework of viable economic and productive activities. 

Actions should be designed that have an impact on public policies that foster and create the conditions necessary for effective financial inclusion and education, facilitating the development of functional regulatory frameworks in poor and excluded territories, focused on protecting the users of financial services, especially women. Lastly, promoting the development of catastrophe micro-insurance to reduce the economic impact of adverse climate and market risks and help the most vulnerable groups.

Focusing on microfinance, Financiera Confianza, BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s institution in Peru, has recently launched its Emprendiendo mujer product, which involves digital training in financial literacy and business management, and was put together by CARE Peru, together with Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. What added value do these applications bring to financial products, and why is this type of program so important for women’s empowerment? 


Julio Nishikawa, Head of Women's Economic Empowerment, Nutrition and Food Security Program, CARE Peru

The development and implementation of digital financial education through the “Lista Express” app, designed for mobile phones, will help to entrench financial culture by improving understanding of savings, credit and other financial services. It also seeks to expand skills in managing microbusinesses and financial health through an edutainment process (combining and integrating elements of play and entertainment), so that it can be applied by women users at times and occasions that are convenient to them.

The “EmpreSara” training platform, meanwhile, makes a direct contribution to entrepreneurial and commercial business management, insofar as it seeks to develop abilities among women users to organize their finances, carry out proper stock control and monitor their business supply chain. With these skills they will be able to review and adjust their value proposal to win more customers, backed up by tools that allow them to create an effective sales and marketing plan.

In both cases, the use of these apps is backed up by project mentors and Financiera Confianza’s field team, in their support of the interactive learning process. This partnership enables us to build greater awareness and financial culture for the sustainable use of financial products that today are completely accessible for the segment of entrepreneurial women and microentrepreneurs who make up the impact-priority population group that we want to empower. 

According to the United Nations, Latin America is one of the world’s regions most affected by natural phenomena arising from climate change, and rural women are the most vulnerable to suffering its effects.  Why do you think the empowerment of these women reduces their vulnerability to environmental risks? 

The effects of climate change are triggering major impacts, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable people in development countries, with women and girls being the most affected. This situation is even worse in communities where poverty and social inequality are higher, which is why it is estimated that climate change may push another 132 million people into poverty by 2030, according to the UNDP. For these reasons, CARE Peru believes that it is crucial to tackle the need to strengthen the resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women and girls, supporting them in their ability to adapt to climate change. 

To reach this goal, we are rolling out action to increase resilience to climate change in cooperation with several partners, involving different players from the private and public spheres, with key initiatives such as:

  • Disseminating practices for coping with climate change and mechanisms to reduce the risk of disasters.
  • Encouraging agriculture that is ecological and climate-smart.
  • Promoting the conservation of ecosystems, integrated management of natural resources, especially soil, water, air, and biodiversity.
  • Promotion and use of sustainable energy.
  • Improving the livelihoods and conditions of homes, together with access to financial services.   

For our team, working towards resilience means developing skills to better manage the risks and cope with environmental and climate crises that have a negative impact on people’s lives. Women, and especially young women, play an important role nowadays in protecting water resources, in food and nutrition; they are the agents of change who are in a position to contribute to increasing environmental awareness and coping with the climate change crisis. 

In our experience as an institution, we have seen that women have a great capacity to lead and adopt new farming techniques to support food production, to access and efficiently manage natural resources and explore green finance. They make an important contribution in household decisions, which are fundamental to improving resilience and the quality of life of their families and communities.

We are also trying to strengthen women’s skills so that they can influence politics, guidelines and regulations, thus enabling them to achieve sustainable changes in governance and resilience to climate change. That is why we are supporting women to raise their self-esteem, leadership and negotiating skills so that they can participate in decision-making spaces and platforms. 

One of CARE’s institutional approaches is inclusive governability. To what extent does institutional good governance have an impact on promoting gender equality?

Inclusive governability is one of our principal approaches to attacking the underlying causes of poverty and social injustice. This is spawned from unequal power relationships and the inequitable distribution of resources and economic opportunities, which disproportionately affects women and girls in our country. 

We have consolidated our work in the fields of governability and territorial management in recent decades, so we are convinced of the significance of getting buy-in for our interventions from the different key players in order to maximize our impact, creating awareness among our partners and allies of the importance of embedding the gendered approach across the joint actions we roll out. In this way we are generating spaces for reflection to make progress on strategies that lead towards empowerment, the economic independence of women, and the promotion of shared responsibility in the home.   

The gap between women and men in their access to equal economic opportunities and the exercise of their rights is still wide. That is why CARE Peru seeks to promote and participate in platforms and spaces for dialog at three levels of government: local and regional forums for interaction; regional Gender Equality Councils; and the various industry-specific bodies, to get the implementation of actions and priorities that lead to equal opportunities between men and women onto all of their agendas.  

We are currently channeling our portfolio of projects to support women’s efforts to achieve compliance with their economic rights. We are backing them to expand their access to financial services, fostering decent working conditions and guiding them towards achieving their economic independence. This is only possible by working with partners and setting up strategic territorial partnerships with public and private organizations that help to multiply impact.

[1] The data base for the “She feeds the world - SFtW Perú” project indicates that 60% of those taking part in the program have mobile phones, and 68% of these use WhatsApp. To reach this group, CARE developed a series of information materials and virtual tutorials as part of the Farmer Field & Business School (FFBS) tool, to continue teaching women and men producers about production techniques and entrepreneurial skills with a gendered approach.