Empower women, help kids

Four Key Ways CFTC Supports Women’s Empowerment

woman and two childrenThe direct route to poverty alleviation is said to be through education – the ‘magic bullet’ of sustainable development. And while obtaining positive educational outcomes remains a clear goal and focus for CFTC as for all anti-poverty activists, change at the broader level – in education, and in other sectors – often means empowering women to establish the conditions and advocate for long-term, sustainable change that benefits children.

Empowering women leads to better lives for children – it’s almost a one-to-one formula.

As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, I wanted to share some of the successful women’s education and empowerment strategies at play in CFTC’s program communities:

1. Empowering women to earn an income

woman and daughter in market stall
When women earn money, they will spend up to ten times more than men on improving their child’s nutrition (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2011). Removing barriers to women’s employment, including for example providing them with access to land and markets for agricultural livelihoods, not only provides the direct benefit of more food and a more diverse diet, but it increases family income in a way that directly benefits children. This is a good thing.

Offering alternative income generation opportunities – especially when supported by credit and savings micro-finance groups such as those in place and expanding throughout our African countries (Uganda, Ethiopia and Ghana) – are also important ways to ensure that long-term and sustainable increases in family household income occur. In turn, that can translate into greater resilience through better food and nutrition, which then translates into a stronger ability for children to learn at school.

2. Empowering women to gain literacy and numeracy skills as adults

Daughters of educated mothers are more likely to attend school, perform better when there, and complete a greater number of school years than daughters of uneducated mothers (Report on the Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, UN Millennium Project 2005). That said, even when women have not had the advantage of schooling themselves, they are often strong advocates of children’s education. As Ugandan Nabirye Beatrice, who did not complete primary school herself, says in our March feature story, “My greatest hope is that all my children receive an education. I know education is an investment and I and my children will benefit from that investment.” So will the community, and so will the world.

Among women basket weavers in the Upper East Region of Ghana (who also pursue farming livelihoods), the women’s illiteracy rate is high, yet I have seen first-hand their passion and commitment to schooling for their children. “I did not attend school, and it is a wonderful feeling to know that I now have the ability to give my children an education, to ensure that they are fed each day and to afford healthcare for them,” said Rhoda Apana, a Ghanaian basket-weaver supported by CFTC local partner TradeAID.

blackboard in TAI basketweaving centre

Blackboard in basket weaving centre – women’s empowerment in action!

These women are also taking matters into their own hands when it comes to their own literacy and numeracy. Understanding how critical these skills are to earning and supporting their families, the basket weavers asked TradeAID to set up a chalkboard and provide some basic learning materials in the basket weaving centre. Now, they learn and teach each other as they weave to earn income.

A key way to encourage women’s voices to be heard with respect to children’s rights is to make sure they are included in community governance structures such as parent-teacher committees. School governance is increasingly becoming a focus for CFTC and its local partners as we have further defined the indicators of change we seek in educational outcomes for children.

In Bolivia, for example, women are starting to participate as volunteer educators in both early childhood education centres (called CICOMs) and after-school centres (CERPES) for older students. Essentially, these mothers are classroom assistants where they not only support learning, but gain an inside perspective and participate in the operation of the ECEs and primary schools. They are better informed and able to act as advocates for their children’s education.

Woman leader Ghana

3. Empowering women to take community leadership roles

In some of our African communities, CFTC’s local partners encourage participation in village leadership through women’s village representatives. Even when such leadership is informal or parallel to existing (male) leadership structures, it is an opportunity for women’s voices to be heard. Self-help groups and women’s agricultural co-ops, not to mention women’s full participation in farmer-based organizations, are other important routes to gender equity at the community governance level, encouraging women to speak up for the issues that matter to them: their own and their children’s rights.

Education helps people understand democracy, promotes the tolerance and trust that underpin it, and motivates people to participate in politics. Education also has a vital role in preventing environmental degradation and limiting the causes and effects of climate change. And it can empower women to overcome discrimination and assert their rights. (UNESCO, Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2013-14)

4. Empowering women to contribute their traditional skills to community development

Tudridep womens group
In a climate change-challenged world, smallholder farming is the key to sustainable agricultural productivity, especially when farming is done in climate-adaptive ways. Traditional methods of farming – use of indigenous seeds and animal traction instead of motorized methods of soil preparation, among other techniques – are invariably held as part of a village’s “intellectual capital,” and often by women.

In Ghana, for example, women farmers in CFTC’s CHANGE project have saved five different species of indigenous, naturally drought-resistant seeds from extinction. They are also participating in innovative tree nursery and mango-seed grafting projects – previously a male-only occupation. Gaining access to land for women is essential for the project’s objectives – improving agricultural productivity and climate-change adaptation – to be achieved. Village elders and the women’s husbands have become more amenable to allocating land to women, now that they’ve seen the skills and contribution women can make.

shg woman and daughterThrough these and other initiatives, women are gaining respect and status in their communities – critical for the ongoing and long-term success of all development projects, not only because women’s participation is a metric of success on its own, but because participating fully in community development builds women’s own skills and ensures that – for coming generations – the gains made can be repeated and sustained.

And all of this helps set the stage for empowering GIRLS – to grow into empowered women who continue to change the world!