Women-Power in Zamiba
Zambia is a beautiful, but impoverished country in southeastern Africa. The economy is mostly dependent upon the mining and exporting of copper. Poverty disproportionately affects women who live in rural areas. For many, barriers to education and the means of production hinder them from earning a livable wage.
Financial investments that enable women to open small businesses or establish their own vegetable farms go a long way towards ensuring economic and financial stability not only for women and their families, but for society as a whole. For over a year, we at Diaconia, along with our partners, have been supporting women through business trainings and financial investments. The goal is to enable them to be self-sustaining and independent.
The province of Chipata in eastern Zambia is an impoverished agricultural region. Due to various economic, political, and environmental factors, traditional growing methods have either failed or been unable to produce strong harvests. Women feel the brunt of the consequences of crop failure, as they are the primary growers, the most susceptible to poverty, and are the main caretakers of their families.
Thanks to a joint partnership with several nonprofit organizations, we at Diaconia have been working since the beginning of 2016 in Zambia, meeting young women, single mothers, widows, and married women through economic self-help groups. The self-help groups are cooperative spaces where women are trained in business methods and exchange expertise and make loans to encourage fellow group members to develop financially-viable businesses.
The following vignettes highlight the empowering work being done:
Miriam is 24 years old and is the mother of one son. Her husband works as a teacher. To supplement the family’s income, Miriam raises corn and soybeans. In 2015, she joined a self-help group and later borrowed money to purchase some high-quality fertilizer. It enabled her to have a strong harvest, make a small profit, and in turn, place some of her savings back into the cooperative’s savings fund. Miriam, if need be, is now able to take another larger loan in the future.
There are 14 women in her self-help group. Together they donate to a cooperative fund that has now grown to about $150. The money in the fund serves to ensure the women that if their crops fail, or if they have a small harvest, they will nevertheless be able to provide for their families and themselves.
Emily is the mother and caretaker of 10 children (4 of whom are adopted). Together with her husband, Emily provides for the family by farming. However, last year saw their fields produce a small harvest, which meant that Emily did not have enough money for fertilizer or have enough food to provide for her children. Taking a loan out of the local bank would have saddled Emily with even more debt, as loan payment plans carry a 2% daily interest rate, along with the charge that loans must be repaid, in full, in one month--a timeline that is impossible for struggling families to meet. The small savings that she kept with her husband enabled her to purchase flour, but not much else.
In the end, Emily decided to borrow $100 from her local self-help group. The group consists of 12 women who together have been able to save $600 to be used for loans and emergency relief. With the loan, Emily was able to purchase tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, and fertilizer, and with those seeds, diversified her farm and began to grow higher-quality produce. From the sale of her produce, Emily made a profit of $160 and returned $102 back to the cooperative fund for future use. With her extra money, she was able to provide for her family and purchase more seeds for next year.
Wethu is 24-years old, married, and the mother of three children. To provide for her family, she farms and runs a small business on the side: she sells gravel and sand to building contractors. Wethu is savvy. She purchases large chunks of rock from men who mine the rock from a distant quarry. She purchases the stone for $40 and sells it to construction companies for $80. Three times a month representatives from construction companies come to purchase the raw material off of Wethu. They are happy that they do not have to travel far to purchase the stone directly from the quarry, so both the companies and Wethu have a vested interest in the exchange.
Wethu supports her family on a mixed income. From the profits she makes selling gravel and produce, she is able to purchase flour to bake scones and pastries, which she also sells at the market. One could say that her household economy is truly diversified.
Fourteen women make up the self-help group to which Wethu belongs. For their group they have chosen the name “Freedom”, because freedom to work, to care for their families, to be independent, and get out of poverty are their goals, and together, their goals are being achieved.