Rural Development Leadership Network

Rural Women at the UN

Rural Grassroots Women's Perspectives on
Women's Economic Empowerment and the Changing World of Work

Rural Voices, Networking, Peer Exchange/Support, Validation/Inspiration

Older Women –

"Women are about 1.5 billion people on this earth. We are at the top of the pile as far as longevity is concerned. We are living longer. That brings a whole new set of issues -- how to be free from violence, how to be safe in our homes. As we live longer and have less resources... If you've worked making a little amount of money, then when you get to be sixty-five, you'll get a very little amount. I'm trying to make ends meet, I'm not breaking pills in half. But you know many women are. There's no dental coverage. I can't take care of my daughter and get compensated. They wouldn't pay me. They might send someone out to take care of my daughter, but a caretaker in the home with a disabled person should be able to get paid. At the legislative level, at the self-help level, at the executive branch level, and all the local levels, we can do something. That's what I'm going to be talking about -- out loud -- women like me."

Shirley McClain, North Carolina


"I first came to the United States when I was fifteen years old. I came with my younger brother. He was three years old. My mother felt that there was more opportunity for me in the United States. In Mexico, we lived in a rural area with 300 people. There was no education, only up to sixth grade. I went to vocational school for three years away from my mom. So she figured she would send me to the U.S. so I could be with my brothers and sisters, who were here already. My uncle met me and carried me over the river. My aunt lived near the border, so we walked to her house, and we stayed with her.

After a year, I couldn't take it any more, so I came back to Mexico. People asked, 'How was the United States?' and I said 'sad'. In Mexico, I was used to being so carefree... In the U.S., I had to worry about language... food... immigration. I had never seen a hamburger in my life. I didn't even know how to eat it. I looked at the piece of meat and I thought 'So much meat! If I could add some water and potatoes I could feed a whole family.' The next time I came to the United States, we got up at two thirty in the morning. We had to go through some fence and ditches and tunnels to get to the other side. When we finally crossed to El Paso, we went to a Catholic Church, and we just stood out there and, miraculously, the priest saw us and opened the door for us.'

Leticia Carreón, New Mexico

Crafts/Economic Empowerment, Health --

Coming here to the U.S., I realized how much we have given over our bodies to the system. I am 64 years young, and I have never entered a hospital except to have a baby. We grew up with midwives, the kind of healthcare, where women are involved in taking care of their bodies.' I'm not saying "no medicine". I"m just saying we can take care of ourselves and take care of other women.

Cynthia Ellis, Belize, Central America

Women & Elective Office -

"We're the state lead for SRBWI, the women and young women's iece looking to get African-American women elected in communities of color. The community could be 60% black and still have white representation that doesn't reflect the needs of the community."

Amber Bell, Georgia

Marketing -- Set Your Price

Make your money, woman! Come on. Take your products to the market. Sell them at the perfect price. Not too low, not too high. Sell them at the price that is right. Know your market. Investigate. Ask questions, talk to potential buyers. I write and publish books and set the prices. Some of the prices -- like this is soft cover -- $14. This is an audiobook -- $6. This is a hardback book – $15. This is soft cover – it's $10. But I also have a rare collectible... I investigated, and I found out that John Grisham always gets some of his books leather bound. I get my books leather bound.

Meredith McGee, Mississippi

Entrepreneurship – RDLN –

I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. When I was five years old, I would collect glass coke bottles, put them in my little red wagon, and take them to the store. Neighbors would say, 'Here, Baby, take these; keep the money'. So I always had a pocketful of money. When relatives fell on hard times, they would come live with us. Later my parents started foster homes and special needs homes. When they got out of it, then I got into it. I developed a home for mentally challenged adults. It's not just about the check. It's because you love people. Sometimes when I wanted to give up, I didn't because of them. They'd say, "Nobody loves us but you", and I knew it was true. They've seen me cry. I've seen them seen them cry. We've suffered together. After I had surgery, they were the ones asking me, Can I get you some water? I would advocate for them in the hospital when their biological families weren't there. As an entrepreneur, sometime you have to see that it's not just the money, it's the freedom, it's the need, it's your passion. If you have an entrepreneurial nature, you will never be satisfied working for someone else. You've got to be a self-starter. Nobody is going to tell you what to do and when you're going to do it. But you need a village.

One of the best things that has come from being a part of RDLN is the love, It's meant a lot to me -- the fact that someone would push me to do things, and would find that what I do is important enough to ask me to tell my story. And you think, "Who would want to know my story -- a girl from Aliceville?" But I realize I do have something to contribute.

What I like is that we don't feel intimidated. We boost one another. We're proud of one another. I appreciate all of you. I've learned from all of you.

Michelle Cole Barnes, Alabama

Aligning with the Universe

I think of the human spirit and women in particular as butterflies. It's a metaphor. If you don't let it go through the different stages it won't develop. You can have a cocoon and if you open it too soon it will be paralyzed. As we talk about economic opportunities, I want to go beyond the "What we do" I want to stand it the "Who we be". Part of my fundraising is I know what to ask for. I know my "ask" is in alignment with what you give. I only ask for what I expect to get. And I don't expect to get out of charity. I'm coming from a perspective that the money that the foundation's got, that is not their money. It is our money. It's getting the universe to yield what you need it to yield. I truly believe that the transformation of African people will come from our personal transformation. The power of this system is only as great as we allow it to be. There is no power, political or otherwise, that is greater than what is inside me. I say that as a butterfly. The real change for me is going to happen when we change how we see ourselves, how we value ourselves and how we value each other.

So I thank you for letting me see another version of myself in your stories. I see my story in you.

LaTosha Brown, Alabama