Empowering women living in rural areas; benefits everyone

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“Through empowerment, we are seeing more and more women holding decision making positions; from cooperatives to higher levels of leadership. We are seeing this country wide,” Alemitu Umod, State Minister of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs said during a conference on the Commission on the Status of Women that focused on empowering women and girls living in rural areas, held at the African Union Commission from February 21 -23, 2018.
The conference was a platform for professionals in different countries to share experiences about supporting women and girls living in rural areas to become economically and socially empowered. Countries also talked about how to better organize an African delegation to CSW62 New York and to participate effectively there.
“We are gathered here to share experiences with all the other countries that are present in this meeting. In Ethiopia looking at early marriage and FGM, there is a lot of work being done. There is also a lot of work to economically empower women living in the rural area, we will be bringing to the stage in New York all this work that has been done,” Alemitu said.
The joint program on accelerating progress towards the empowerment of rural women (RWEE JP) in Ethiopia is a five-year program that was launched in 2014. The program is being implemented by the government of Ethiopia in partnership with UN Women, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
ShibireTadesse,a farmer living in the Yaya Gulele Woreda is among those that benefited from the joint program. In the same Woreda, there are 1,060 women who are also part of the program and have benefited from it.
“It all started for me when I became a part of a rural savings and credit cooperative. One day we, with the permission of the men in our community, were told to gather and discuss the importance of savings and credit and how we could be a part of it. We were asked to contribute two birr each and when the collection reached a certain amount, it was given out as a loan. That’s how it started,” she said.
The women are also part of agriculture cooperative. They produce cereals, vegetables such as tomatoes and beetroot which all of it is sold in the Wordeda’s market.
Looking back over 6 to seven years, the participation of women in the economic or social decision making was very low. “Of course there was a huge difference; women’s place was at home, taking care of the children, we didn’t make decisions. I have 6 kids with a spacing of two years between each child. I was giving birth and breastfeeding for years,” she says. Girls were not allowed to go to school and instead staying back home to help with house chores.
Through awareness creation work, the narratives were able to change and slowly, women started to participate in different aspects of the society. “Collectively we were able to understand that everyone would benefit if women were involved in economic decisions. Because I am economically empowered, my household is in better condition, all my children go to school and the community is more prosperous,” Shibire points out.
Through the RWEE joint program which is implemented in two pilot regions; Afar and Oromia, there are over 2,000 direct beneficiaries of smallholder women farmers living in rural areas. The initiative is also benefiting 32,000 community members; 17,000 women and 15,000 men.