Why do you focus on women?
Over the last year, living here in Tamale, Ghana, and working with rural women farmers on our Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project- I’ve expanded my understanding of the gender issues in northern Ghana drastically. Here, women and men face many cultural barriers, social expectations and a lack of opportunities due to poverty. In short, gender issues here are complex, messy and deeply rooted in daily routines.
You can see these examples of these easily whenever you go:
- When you go to a meeting with government and NGO partners and you have about 30 men and maybe 3 women in the room. It’s clear that women’s voices are not equally represented.
- Or when you walk around town, and all the taxi drivers are men, and so are most of the drivers of cars, motorcycles, scooters and even bicycles. It becomes clear that women lack the same access and control of resources.
- Or when you walk through one of the rural communities where we work, and the men are sitting together under shady tree, and the young girls are carrying water home to their mothers that are cooking with a baby strapped on their back.
So, when I tell people about the GROW project, how we help rural women farmers grow and sell soybeans, I inevitably get the question: “Why do you focus on women?”
I launch into my explanation of how women are disproportionally affected by extreme poverty, how they lack access and control over resources, and how when women are empowered they in turn empower their children, families and communities. I always thought this was a pretty good explanation, because as development professionals, we know this is true. There’s endless research, books, papers, and anything else you need available to prove it. But people aren’t always too convinced by this argument.
So, I continue to explain that we help women grow and sell soybeans, because we know that when a woman financially contributes to her household, it’s the quickest way to raise her status in the family. Women’s decision making power increases, because she can decide what to do with her profits. Women also reinvest their income into their families, businesses and communities. I’ve interviewed and met many women farmers in the GROW project over the past year, and the absolutely most common item the women spend their soybean profits on are their children’s schools fees. They also always mention that they keep soybeans to feed their families. But the impact goes well beyond these two changes- the women tell me that their kids are healthier, that they learned how to save and budget so they are better prepared for family emergencies, and that their relationships have improved because their husbands are happy that they’re contributing to the finances. One group of women even told me that they invested into a community fund that they could use for community improvement projects.
A couple of weeks ago, I met up with Malia Musah, one of our GROW beneficiaries, who’ve I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with a few times over the last year. She said something to me that stuck with me. I asked her what she hopes for her future and this is what she said: “The future is all about my children- how I will take care of them, so that they become better people in the future.”
So that’s why we focus on empowering women, because they are the catalysts for change.
The GROW project is starting little ripples of change with soybeans: Today, women are able to feed their kids and send them to school, tomorrow those kids will be the future leaders of Ghana, and the day after that they will transform their country and the world.
This photo is of Malia with her four children in Nyimati Village, Sissala West District, Ghana