Tag Archives: women

Mamas know best: an organization in Ghana profits with fair trade

Ashley Terry is a senior producer with globalnews.ca. In the spring of 2013, she served as an expert trainer with Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana as part of the Shaw Africa Project.

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

Gloria Amanful of Global Mamas working on an order. Ashley Terry, Global News

ACCRA & CAPE COAST, Ghana – The Bangladesh factory collapse has forced Canadians to look at their closets a little more closely.

The discovery of Joe Fresh garments in the rubble has also brought renewed calls from NGOs and labour groups to improve conditions for garment workers in the developing world.

Currently, there is no existing fair trade certification program in North America for apparel, only for commodities.

“It started with coffee, then chocolate, sugar… But it’s so expensive for businesses to go through certification so it falls on the producer’s shoulders,” said Carrie Hawthorne, former board member of the Fair Trade Federation, a non-profit based in Washington, DC.

Fair trade screening does exist for apparel, but is entirely voluntary. Expenses to remain “fair trade” increase production costs, putting companies at a competitive disadvantage to those not operating at the same standards.

The only incentive is to appeal to the small market of fair trade consumers. This incentive isn’t enough, for most.

“Can you really keep up with Walmart?” asks Hawthorne, who is now working for a fair trade organization in Ghana called Global Mamas.

This organization might be an exception to the rule. It is a Ghanaian-based clothing company with a formula to trade fairly and make a profit.

“The model that Global Mamas is setting up is to be large scale,” says Hawthorne.

The women involved essentially own their own businesses – each “Mama” is responsible for managing her own finances and hiring help if needed.

This approach means the company is dealing one-on-one with Ghanaian entrepreneurs rather than a company in Bangladesh, for example.

Women are employed in seven different locations in Ghana. The organization provides raw materials and orders for batiking, sewing, bead-making, assembling, weaving and soap-making.

Gloria Amanful, a seamstress in Cape Coast, has been working with Global Mamas for the past nine months. She is saving money to buy land, and is now thinking of buying a knitting machine to expand her business.

Amanful says she is gaining confidence in herself through her work. “Global Mamas has helped me by giving me something for my children and my family,” she said.

It’s something that Global Mamas co-founder Renae Adam said is an advantage of working with women.

“You can be assured they’re going to invest their money in their family,” she said. “Women are definitely the best investment for the betterment of an entire community.”

“They even start employing other women,” said Adam.

Mary Koomson is proof: since she started taking on contracts with the organization, she’s been able to purchase her own plot of land, pay for her niece and nephews to attend school, hired two workers and one apprentice, and is now thinking of expanding her business.

“I want to open a store to make my new things in,” she said.

 

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

Koomson batiking an order for Global Mamas. (Ashley Terry, Global News)

 

Koomson lives in Cape Coast, and has been working with Global Mamas for five years. She does “batiking,” an ancient process of stamping and dyeing fabric that has been practiced in Ghana for generations.

She said she has benefited from training provided by Global Mamas on fair trade, how to manage your business and how to save money.

The organization was founded in 2003 with six apparel producers in Ghana. It now has over 600 producers and is building a fair trade campus in Ashaiman, just outside of Accra.

Global Mamas hit the $1-million sales mark for the first time in 2012. Adam said that the organization is getting requests from all over the world to establish organizations there, but that Global Mamas will stay in Ghana until, she said, “we’ve helped Ghana to its extent.”

But the Global Mamas model is proving to be a success, according to Adam, in more ways than numbers.

“I think [the fair trade] approach is so amazing to be able to empower people in the workplace. It’s the opposite of what you read about China and other parts of the world.”

Secret Women

In Chichewa, the widely-spoken language of southern Malawi, being pregnant or “kunkhala ndi pakati” translates to being in the middle of life and death.  For many pregnant Malawian women, however, death comes much sooner.

As the African country with the second highest maternal mortality ratio, Malawi is struggling to eradicate a crisis that in 2006 claimed the lives of would-be mothers at a rate of 807 deaths per 100,000 live births.  And while 2006 figures showed an improvement on those of 2004 – 984 deaths per 100,000 live births – the 2010 Malawi Millennium Development Goals Report has already projected that Malawi will not achieve the targets of the fifth MDG to improve maternal health by 2015.

Contributing factors identified in the 2005 Ministry of Health (MoH) “Road Map for Accelerating the Reduction of Maternal and Neonatal Mortality and Morbidity in Malawi” include shortage of staff and weak human resource management, limited availability and utilisation of quality maternal health care services, and weak procurement and logistics systems for drugs, supplies and equipment.  Underlying such problems of infrastructure and resources, the report reads, are harmful social and cultural beliefs and practices.

Naswit Chitalo of Namila Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlilima in Chikhwawa District is easily able to recall a time when “most pregnant women were dying from pregnancy complications” because of social and cultural beliefs, which include the belief that the firstborn child should be delivered by a traditional birth attendant (TBA) in the home as opposed to a health facility.

“I actually know of three women we lost in 2009 because they sought the services of elderly women from the village instead of rushing to the hospital,” said Chitalo, adding that TBAs would use herbs to make pregnant women “feel so confident about the outcome of their pregnancy” that professional maternal health care would be neglected altogether.

According to Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) Executive Director Martha Kwataine, these kinds of social and cultural beliefs surrounding TBAs have done more harm than good when it comes to maternal mortality in Malawi.

“There have been several researches whose results have shown that traditional birth attendants have made cases on maternal death high because they are not properly equipped,” said Kwataine.  “We tried to train them so that they should handle referral cases but they did not comply.”

President Joyce Banda has also added her voice to the case against TBAs; on June 18, after laying a foundation stone for a maternity holding shelter at Mulanje Hospital, the first of 130 holding shelters pledged as part of the Presidential Initiative on Safe Motherhood launched in April, Banda told TBAs to stop offering delivery services to expectant women.

“Traditional birth attendants must stop giving delivery services,” she said at the function, adding that “traditional birth attendants can have a good role to play… because they are experienced they can be referral point.”

News of the ban on TBAs has been met with both controversy and commendation throughout the country.  But to women like Chitalo, the rationale behind the ban is not news at all; as one of the T/As where the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAVWC) has been working to realize the MoH Road Map objective of improving obstetric care, a new, “good role” for TBAs is already one of Mlilima’s best kept secrets.

Former traditional birth attendant Dalia Issa stands with her husband outside of their Namila Village home. In 2010, with training from the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children, Issa stopped offering village-based delivery services and took on a new role as a Secret Woman. Photo submitted.

In 2010, CAVWC identified two women in each village of T/A Mlilima and T/A Kasisi to be “Secret Women.”  The women, many of whom had been working as TBAs, attended three days of training on maternal health using a standardized MoH handbook.

According to CAVWC Project Officer Talimba Bandawe, women like Chitalo were trained to take on four main roles and responsibilities: referring pregnant women to antenatal facilities by carrying out door-to-door campaigns; educating women on family planning; collaborating with Village Health Committees to form Community Safe Motherhood Task Forces and conduct awareness-raising community meetings; and recording how many pregnant women deliver in the community or in a health facility.

“We depend on these Secret Women because they have been trained; they can convince a woman on the importance of delivery at a health facility with a skilled attendant, because in the rural areas they are used to having TBAs,” said Bandawe.  “We’re trying to change that mindset – that anything could happen with a TBA so it’s better to deliver at a health facility.”

Bandawe said the women are called “Secret Women” because of the social and cultural beliefs and practices surrounding pregnancy in Malawi.

“When you talk about traditions and beliefs, the pregnant woman is vulnerable,” she said, adding that traditional beliefs in witchcraft scare some women off of sharing how many months they are into their pregnancy.

“The concept of Secret Women is based on that whatever you talk about with a Secret Woman should be kept confidential,” she continued.  “Whatever issues that you discuss, the Secret Woman is not expected to go and disclose that anywhere because some of the things can be really private.”

According to Esnart Dzoma, who has been volunteering as a Secret Woman in Namila Village for two years, “the most important thing is confidentiality.”

“If I begin to shout that ‘so and so sought this help from me’ they will inform each other, and we will have the health problems that used to compound issues such as pregnancy again,” said Dzoma.  “I have an obligation to help these women with compassion, and without malice… the secret to being an effective Secret Woman is to be open-minded.”

Based on principles of compassion and confidentiality, Bandawe said the Secret Women project has helped to address some of the harmful social and cultural beliefs and practices, “especially through the door-to-door campaigns” as pregnant women have been comforted by and more likely to accept confidential counselling.

A bicycle ambulance donated by the Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children being used in Namila Village. Photo submitted.

“The Secret Women were really successful in that a number of women were referred to the hospital,” she said, adding that other Road Map interventions such as the provision of bicycle ambulances and village bylaws enforcing fines for births that take place outside of a health facility have also contributed to the success of the initiative.

The data collected by the Secret Women also speaks to their success; in 2009, when CAVWC was working to reach out to practicing TBAs and provide safe-birthing training and equipment, approximately 30 percent of pregnant women in the two T/As were reportedly giving birth at a health facility.  In 2012, the Secret Women are reporting that 54 percent of pregnant women are now giving birth at a health facility.

But despite their success, Bandawe said that the new role for TBAs has not been implemented without resistance.

“Some women still resist the counseling of the Secret Women, and sometimes even the husband can be a challenge,” she said.

“There are some materials that the hospital recommends that you should have when you go to the hospital – a plastic paper, a razor blade and a basin.  Some of the husbands don’t welcome this idea, so (the Secret Women) have a negative reception from some of the families.”

For their part, Bandawe said that CAVWC will “revive the Secret Women” by holding refresher training courses at the end of June.

“It is really important to have these sorts of people in the communities, mainly in the rural areas where literacy levels are low,” she said.

“Maybe after there has been a lot of sensitization, when everyone even in the rural communities is aware of the health benefits of delivering at the hospital and when we have managed to reduce the maternal mortality ratio, that’s when we can do without the Secret Women.  But right now, they still have a major role to play.”

***

With files from Richard Chirombo and Madalitso Musa

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.

African women in media: Making waves in radio

Bridget Nambah

Photo by Gwyneth Dunsford

“Mostly ladies are known to be shy … [too] shy to talk in public.”

This is a strange declaration from Bridget Nambah, a DJ and talk show producer at Tamale’s Diamond FM. The 19-year-old from Ghana’s Northern Region is fighting her own stereotyping. She has been broadcasting since high school, when she snuck into public speaking seminars to learn her craft.

“In Ghana here, most often ladies don’t report,” she says.” [Producers] want the ladies to be comfortable. When they are sending out reporters, they are mostly sending out the males. A man can easily defend himself from danger but a lady cannot do that.”

While female journalists are becoming more common in urban centres like Accra, Tamale is still an outpost for traditional gender norms, says gender expert Safia Mousah. She says leadership qualities are not fostered in Ghanaian women, so they do not pursue professions like journalism.

“In our culture, the women always takes the backstage,” says Mousah, who works for the anti-poverty NGO, Action Aid. “She takes all the instructions.”

Women who are outspoken are deemed “deviant”, according to Mousah. She points to the lack of women in Ghanaian political life as a telling example of this. Female politicians are scrutinized harshly about everything from their hairstyles to their husbands; scrutiny from which their male colleagues are exempt.

“Looking at the very few women we have in leadership roles, in journalism, it’s very clear that  [society] is hard on them,” says Mousah.

Nambah credits her strong personality for her success.

“Generally in Africa, women are perceived to be relegated to the background”, says Akosua Kwartemaa, the female manager at Tamale’s Fiila FM.

Since starting at Fiila nine years ago, Kwartemaa has seen a slow progression of gender equality in media.

“Of late, things are changing,” she says. “We feel, what a man can do, we can do and even do it better.”

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

Maintaining Community in Women’s Prison

I visited Freetown’s prison for women with Martha Kargbo, jhr’s first BBC World Service Trust Fellow in Sierra Leone. She is producing a feature on how women behind bars maintain contact with their families and communities. What we found is that they often have very little contact with the outside world. Phone calls are difficult and visits with family – including children – are extremely limited. Aside from the problems making contact, there is also a stigma against women who are convicted of crimes and can be stigmatised by their communities even after they are released.

To cope with this isolation from society, we saw that these women formed their own communities, much like a large extended family. Some are in for a few months if they are convicted of marijuana possession, some for years, and one or two on life sentences. They work together sowing clothes and making beaded purses.

It is a right for women with newborns to be able to look after their babies, even if they are in prison. So when there is a baby in the prison, we were told that it is often not only cared for by the biological mother, but by all of them.

The women’s prison in Freetown is not a large facility. It is housed in the former UN Special Courts for war crimes in Sierra Leone. It is not large – there were only 24 women incarcerated at the time of our visit.

When women are released from prison, they face unique challenges reintegrating into society.  They often do not have as many job opportunities as men, and the stigma against female convicts can remain in their communities. There are few government programs available to provide assistance, and correctional services say the look to international organizations for support. Some women who have been released meet every week at a local NGO called Advocaid, and have formed something of a support network. There they discuss legal issues, as well as those affecting their careers and personal lives.

Much like in the prison itself, the support group provided acted not only as a network for navigating legal issues after these women were released, but as a community for those who had lost much of theirs during incarceration.

The story behind Malawi Vice President Joyce Banda’s dedication to women’s empowerment

Malawi Vice President Joyce Banda traces her lifetime commitment to the economic empowerment of women to a childhood spent in the village. Photo by Travis Lupick.

It’s often fascinating to hear from where an activist found their dedication to a cause.

I’ve interviewed a young victim of molestation who openly shared her story in the hopes of letting abused children know that they are not alone. There was a bereaved mother who founded an experimental drug rehabilitation centre after her son overdosed while backpacking in Thailand. And I’ve met plenty of convicted criminals who now work to prevent youth from making the same mistakes that they did.

More recently, in Malawi, several women carrying the HIV/AIDS virus bravely broke cultural taboos and let their names and stories be publicized in order to spread awareness of the disease.

Another favourite inspirational story I’ve enjoyed since arriving in southern Africa is that of Malawi’s vice president, Joyce Banda.

“I have worked in the area of economic empowerment and education all of my adult life,” she told me during a recent interview at her office in Blantyre. “For me, it is about poverty eradication.”

Growing up with a police officer for a father, Banda has spent most of her life in the city, she began her story. But for many years, her grandmother forced her to spend weekends in her family’s village, lest that be where Banda’s fate one-day take her.

“So I had a very good friend in my village whose name is Chrissie,” Banda said. “She taught me everything about village life and she was brighter than me in school.”

Both girls completed their primary studies, the vice president continued. “And she was elected to go to Saint Mary’s and I was elected to go to Providence. She went one term, but her parents couldn’t raise the six pounds that we needed for her to go the second term, so she dropped out and went back home.”

That was when the girls were 16 years old, Banda recalled.

“I went on, finished, and now I am vice president of this land,” Banda said, matter-of-factly. “She is locked up in the village, in poverty. And it makes me angry when I see her. I say, ‘Why am I here, and she is not?’ For that reason, I decided that I was going to spend my life working to economically empower women.”

Banda, the country’s first female to hold an office as high as vice president, has since gone on to help Chrissie start a bakery, she’s establish schools and orphanages that focus on educating girls, and Banda continues to financially support hundreds of young women’s educations.

“Chrissie is very bright,” Banda said. “But she lost out; I cannot support her education. But I can spend my life supporting people like her….So for me, again, it is the eradication of poverty, focused on education, health, and the economic empowerment of women.”

Follow Travis Lupick on Twitter: @tlupick.