Tag Archives: empowerment

Empowering Malawian women one seed at a time

Across Malawi, 5000 women have been trained by Annie Bonomali, a mother of six who’s been involved in making products such as soap, jam and oil out of tree leaves and seeds. What started out to be a family business in 1994 rapidly evolved into making Malawian women financially independent.

“In 1998, the International I foundation called and asked me to train my fellow women in soap & jam making, mushroom growing and oil processing. Overall, I’ve trained 5000 women in 26 districts. Nchisi and Karonga are the only districts I haven’t been too”, explains Mrs. Bonomali.

Even though she studied tailoring, over the past 20 years it’s the Jatropha, Baobab, Moringa and Neem trees that provided Mrs. Bonomali with the sufficient source of income to send her children to university.

This is why she agreed to train her fellow women when she was approach by several NGOs and later registered her own business as Khumbo oil Refinery and Consultancy.

“I wanted them to improve their lives and depend on themselves not on their husbands, uncles or brothers. Life will be hard for these women if the people they depend on end up dying. In the villages a lot of women rely on their husbands to take care of them”,  she says.

Currently 150 women work hand in hand with Mrs. Bonomali in the Michiru district. It takes five hours for the women to extract ten liters of oil from the baobab seeds. Every 250ml bottle is sold out for 500 kwacha, which amounts to two Canadian dollars.

However, Mrs. Bonomali admits that involving women in generating income activities is challenging since they are most likely not to have access to loans. Another issue is that many men refuse to see their wives being empowered; being afraid that earning their own money will make them too independent.

Like mother, like daughter

While many women in Malawi were recently initiated to the business culture, it is not the case for Mrs. Bonomali who admits that her business idea came from her grandmother. After practicing tailoring for 14 years, she thought it was time for her to follow the path of the woman who had inspired her own mother before her.

Grounded moringa leaves sold has nutrient for the people with diabetes

“My grandmother and my mother were both business women. They had a garden were they pound ground nuts and sell the powder”, she explains.

Even though Mrs. Bonomali grew up surrounded by business women and has been exporting her products to foreign countries such as Japan for more than 20 years now, the inaccessibility to funds makes it very difficult for her business  grow as she would like.

“If I receive an order today, the bank will still refuse to grant me the loan that will help me process it and won’t giving me any reason for declining it. Most people here in Malawi do things politically. People look at you, who you are, who you are supporting politically and if your business is profitable to them”, she admits.

Though Mrs. Bonomali is yet to reach her goal of expanding her business, time and commitment enabled her to get her products known across the country. While her products are available in various drugstores around Blantyre, she admits that word of mouth remains so far the best advertising to help sell her products.

Vanessa Nsona

Driving change in Malawi – Signposts and speed bumps on the road to gender equality

With two hands gripping the steering wheel and the right turn signal flashing, 21-year-old Vanessa Nsona’s concentration does not waver when a minibus caller passing by her driver seat window lets out a shrill catcall – she is about to complete her third driving lesson and she’s part of an increasing number of Malawian women who are doing so.

According to Precious Kumbatila, the director of Blantyre’s Apule Driving School,  female students in Malawi have been enrolling at increasingly higher numbers over recent years.

“When we opened in 2003, most of our students were male,” said Kumbatila.  “Very few women came in.

“It was in 2004 when we had the second government that women started learning to drive,” he said.  “At that time there were a lot of vehicles coming into the country; a lot of families were buying cars, and as a result, men started wanting their wives and their girl children to learn how to drive.”

Although Kumbatila said the poorly performing economy adversely affected enrolment numbers for both male and female students in 2011, he added that overall, the gender gap is narrowing.  In 2008, 163 female students registered for driving lessons at Apule compared to 301 male students.  In 2011, 190 female students registered for lessons compared to 282 male students.

For Nelly Kalunga, a single mother working full-time and currently taking driving lessons at Apule, learning to drive is a “privilege” and will mean a new skill set, new opportunities and economic empowerment.

“Nowadays, women are given chances to do what men do,” Kalunga said.  “I decided to start driving because I want to be like the men who are driving.

“If I have a driving license, that means I can do any work that men can do, I’ll have better chances of winning other jobs,” she said.  “Myself, I want try to be like the men who work in peacekeeping.”

Kalunga said the jobs that she will be qualified for once she learns how to drive are higher paying and that “the more you learn, the more you can get good things.”

“We used to think that driving was only for men and not for women, but nowadays we’ve seen that even women can drive,” she said.  “I think we can be 50/50 with men if most women can drive.”

However, according to Kumbatila, still “very few women can come and pay for lessons on their own” like Kalunga.

At Apule, registration for the 40 required driving lessons costs MK45,000 (CAD180).  With the additional costs of the MK4,000 (CAD16) provisionary license, booking a road test for MK4,000 and MK8,000 (CAD32) for the full license if you pass, learning to drive costs over MK60,000 (CAD240) in total.

“It’s the men that pay for the women,” said Kumbatila.  “Either their husbands, their boyfriends or workmates.  They are trying to push the women to learn how to drive so that they can do their chores on their own.”

Nancy Nyirende is one such woman.  A housewife and stay-at-home mother, Nyirende began taking driving lessons at Apule in March after her husband, who has been driving since 2001, decided to register her and pay for her.

“We have two cars now so he wanted me to escort my sons to school,” said Nyirende, adding that none of her female friends drive “because they are poor.”

Despite these roadblocks to closing the gender gap between male and female drivers, Kumbatila said he believes the slowly but surely increasing number of female drivers is steering Malawi in the right direction.

“It is imperative that women drive because driving lifts people’s lives,” he said.  “In my mother’s day she was just at home for us, cooking at home.  But nowadays [women] can have opportunities.  If a woman can improve herself by learning to drive she can get the same kind of opportunities as men.  If more women drive, it will empower this country.”

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According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), Malawi was ranked 60 out of 102 countries in the 2009 SIGI and ranked 38 out of 86 in the 2012 SIGI.

In 2011, the Human Development Index for Malawi was 0.400, placing the country at 171 out of 187 countries.  For the Gender Inequality Index Malawi received a score of 0.594, placing the country at 120 out of 146 countries with data.  Also in 2011, the World Economic Forum ranked Malawi 65 out of 135 countries in its 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, with a score of 0.6850 where 0 represents inequality and 1 represents equality.

Money lending sparks new-found rights for women in Malawi

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but in Nkalo village it grows near one.

In the centre of the village a tree has become the site of new financial freedom and empowerment for local women – an outdoor Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) that is literally taking a grassroots approach to providing women with the opportunity to access a loan.

Women from the Nkalo village VSLA are pictured contributing and lending kwacha during one of their meetings. Photo by Karissa Gall.

Roughly 25 kilometres from the ATM queues that are characteristic of Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre, 10 Nkalo women meet regularly under the tree to contribute kwacha in amounts that range up to $3 depending on what they can individually afford, and lend to one another.

The microfinance project is overseen by the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAVWC) Women’s Rights Programme and based on the VSLAs first engineered by aid agency CARE International in Niger in 1991.

According to Chrissy Chibwana, one of the members of the Nkalo VSLA, the alternative micro-lending model has made her more economically independent and better equipped to care for her family.

“Before (the VSLA) I had to ask for money from my husband all the time to buy salt or sugar or pay for my children’s school fees,” said Chibwana.  “Now, I no longer have to wait for my husband to look for the money to send my children to school. I have the power to get money whenever the need arises.

Because the women are  lending to themselves, the VSLA model is not only providing women like Chibwana access to loans but also allows the women to earn interest and save.

Nkalo VSLA members Dorothy Musaya and Anne Maere said they have been able to lend money and save enough of the interest to improve their standards of living; with Musaya able to buy 24 iron sheets for her house and Maere being able to buy cement, and a mattress.

According to CAVWC executive director Joyce Phekani, such success stories are becoming more common in Malawi as VSLA membership rises each year, increasing economic independence and empowering women who would otherwise be dependent on a man.

“We were finding that women would stick to a relationship where she was being abused because she was not economically independent,” said Phekani.  “But these VSLAs are financially empowering women.

“When we first start a VSLA we find that the women are not empowered, they are really shy, inhibited and can’t see any future with their lives.  From day-to-day, we find that these women are able to survive better than in the past.  For women who were never able to save anything in their lives you can see the visible joy that they now have.”

However, challenges still exist in achieving greater gender equality through the VSLA finance model; access to financial resources alone does not automatically translate into empowerment or equality and according to Phekani some women are still being short-changed.

“We can’t rule out women who succumb to their husbands, which is a challenge for us,” she said.  “Recently we heard of a woman who had built capital by doing a small business of selling tomatoes.  When she was asked where the money she’d earned was she said she’d given it all to her husband.”

Pece Pearson of Nkalo confirmed that such challenges exist on the ground, saying that “there are some men who steal from their wives and use the money for petty things like beer.”

To address the issue of not only access but control of financial resources, Phekani said the CAVWC plans to “build the capacity of the program” through leadership, business management and training workshops.  The training will aim to address issues of power relations within the VSLA groups as well as in the family home.

Since CAVWC launched its first VLSA in 2009 a total of 326 VSLAs have been established in the Chiradzulu district in Nkalo, Kadewere and Onga.  Of them, 314 associations are exclusive to women who have been historically disadvantaged in access to material resources like credit, property and money.

This article was originally published on the Toronto Star website on April 16, 2012.

With files from The Daily Times‘ Sellina Nkowani

Biking as a Tool of Female Empowerment

Woman on Bike participant Alba Kunadu Sumprim before the ride.

In Ghana’s northern regions bicycles are used as a necessary means of transportation, but in the capital city of Accra, this is not the case. Cycling in the city can not only be dangerous, but attached to social stigmas – especially for women cyclists.

This is what Alba Kunadu Sumprim, along with ten others, discovered as participants in the Woman on Bike workshop, which is also part of the Prêt-à-partager art exhibition.The purpose is to explore the limits and possibilities of bikes in an urban West African atmosphere with particular significance to biking as a tool of female empowerment.

Sumprim is a British born Ghanaian and a participant in the workshop. Sumprim says back in England, cycling was a key method of transport for her and part of her daily routine. She has spent the past decade living in Ghana and says this workshop gave her the courage and confidence to get on a bike for the first time since her arrival ten years ago.

“When I first started I was a little scared,” she says. “It’s a matter of confidence… as I became more confident I realized it was my right to be on the road with everybody else.”

Sumprim says, based on her experience riding in the city, she has felt social discrimination as a female cyclist, stating one man she met while riding told her that as far as he was concerned, the only women who should be on bicycles are villagers, women from the north or foreigners, and Ghanaian women in Accra, should not be on bicycles.

“It is all about status – and riding a bike says that you are poor. That is the perception. I think there is also a gender thing, we have very typical ideas of what women can do and what women can’t do,” Sumprim says.

This is the type of discrimination the workshop aims to eliminate. Sandrine Micosse-Aikins, co-creator of Prêt-à-partager art exhibition in collaboration with the German Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations, says the initiative is related to ideas of freedom and Pan African Empowerment. As a German-Ghanaian, she says female empowerment is an important issue for her and feels biking is something people in the city aren’t practicing and aren’t claiming as their right.

“[It’s] about promoting biking as a practice available for women, especially Ghanaian women,” Micosse-Aikins says.

The women involved in the workshop agree the perception of female cyclists in Accra and the discrimination towards them is not something that is going to vanish overnight. It is, however, something they believe they can work towards and plan to continue.

Zohra Opoku is a German-Ghanaian, avid cyclist, artist and coordinator of the Woman on Bike workshop. Opoku says this workshop is just the beginning and they have started to think of actions to strengthen their goal. It begins with public interaction, she says.

“In terms of empowerment it is something that has to grow,” Opuku says. “I think this is good. People will see more bikes on the streets because of our workshop.”

In addition to the empowerment associated with female riders, Sumprim states that although the workshop is focused on women and female empowerment, it has potential to extend into the greater community.

According to her, less traffic congestion, decreased pollution, lower economic demand for oil and overall health and fitness are benefits of the cycling initiative.

“It is Woman on Bike because it is a novelty, but society in general can be empowered… it is actually a huge thing for society as a whole,” Sumprim says.