Challenges in the community
Gender: empowering women
The woman’s role in the community has always been taken for granted. However, a report by the United Nations Environmental Program, has established that there have been more than two hundred success stories of women from all over the world. These women have in one way or another succeeded in protecting ecosystems against all odds and with little means.
The world’s poor are women who face the challenges of providing water and fuel, providing fodder, etc. Women have a powerful incentive to protect the environment. They know too well that walking that extra mile for fuel means less time for more productive activities.
Women have initiated activities and created support systems for community survival without any further degradation of the resource base. It is the role of the entire community to mobilize resources for women’s economic activities and to give voice to the enormous contributions of women.
There is a capacity for women leadership, for taking control of their own lives and for having a positive influence over their families, community and nations. Women take the needs of rural communities into account at all stages of planning, establishing and maintaining protected areas. When women’s tasks, responsibilities and contributions are neglected or ignored, the results we envision elude us.
Women have entrepreneurial and management abilities that are generally underutilized. Their abilities could also be applied within larger firms and organizations. Support from NGOs, the private sector, governments and intergovernmental organizations can help women to realize their full potential – benefiting the wider community. Support can take the form of specific measures e.g. the provision of training.
Specific national policies should be put in place to enable women to rise to their full potential in social, economic and political life. When these policies are developed to promote community-based research – to empower women farmers, to educate and train women for careers and to provide them with support in order for them to survive in the business industry, agriculture, forestry and water management, we will move from rhetoric and resolutions to results.
Women are constantly denied positions of leadership and responsibility and earn proportionally less and work longer hours. They are also sexually discriminated. The discriminatory attitudes and formalized rules need to be confronted and challenged by both women and men to achieve women empowerment.
Women in the rural areas have been deprived of employment opportunities in the past due to traditional gender roles which restrict them mainly to domestic tasks. However, women will only be able to gain their rights it they are financially independent. Benefits will be reaped when people experience and appreciate women as highly skilled workers.
The growing numbers of poor women have a claim on our conscience and our resolve. We should value the women to provide the vision and leadership by valuing our resources. The way forward therefore, is to invest in women by:
· Partnerships between donor agencies;
· Training programs;
· Research and strategies to ensure that women’s needs for access to and control over resources are met;
· Funds should be allocated to support and publicize the needs of the poor women living in both rural and urban areas;
· The collaboration of all stakeholders is required;
· There should be statistics drawn out to show everybody how women and men are being treated differently;
· Change of social attitudes towards women as employees;
· Emphasis should be laid on the production function and not the reproductive function; and
· Funding agencies could help to improve the employment situation by linking financial support to employment targets.
When we look ahead, our resolve should be that we cannot wait ten years to make women a recognized resource – nature cannot wait that long.
One group-one product – women groups
According to the millennium goals, eradication of poverty is on the forefront. The backbone of development is the family and once the family life disintegrates, problems which affect the whole community arise.
The Kagera Region, having been the first place HIV/Aids was detected in 1983 in Tanzania, has had so many cases of HIV/Aids infection. In 1986 there were already 404 reported Aids cases countrywide of which 332 were from Kagera. This shows the pathetic situation in the region as the numbers have escalated with time. However, according to available data with NACP, men and women are equally affected although women are more vulnerable in the younger age-group than men.
Many children have been orphaned. There are also big numbers of widows who are impoverished. Bearing in mind that two-thirds of all illiterate people in the world are women, these widows live in abject poverty, way below the poverty line. Some of these women have even been rendered homeless after being thrown out by their relatives. The load of those affected as a result of HIV/Aids falls heavily on the shoulders of women who attend to them and also the orphans. These women need support to build capacity in their income-generating projects.
Poverty and homelessness have resulted in many children living in the streets in the urban areas. Many women have also resorted to prostitution as their only way of survival in trying to support their children. This has escalated the number of HIV infected people in the region.
Credit should be accompanied by improved access to other services to enable women to benefit fully. The practical problems they face are education, health, child care and the provision of services. Raising income alone is not sufficient to change their situation; their priorities must be considered.
HI has therefore looked into the depressing situation and ventured into the rural areas to help bring hope to the hopeless. Participatory research and evaluation of the project has to be carried out to ensure that participants’ needs are prioritized. The only way to do this is to bring back the family together. This is made possible if the women are brought together, counseled and helped financially.
Incidentally, there are several existing women groups all around Kagera Region. When women form groups, they have each other for support. However, this support is minimal and they require professional assistance and funds for development, without which they may become redundant. HI has managed to target women who lack support networks and brought them together under the slogan One-group-One product. The aim of HI is to help support these groups, mediating and strengthening them.
Most of these women need to be trained in skills (e.g. making tie& dyes, sewing, mat-making etc) that will help raise their standards of living. Once they achieve the required training, the administration helps them to minimize costs by making them us locally available materials. These should be utilized as much as possible.
In order to maximize profits and minimize costs, HI helps make these women co-operate with each other rather than compete. This makes it easier for capacity production and keeping rivalry at bay. The women also need community support.
Other major reasons why women should be empowered:
HI wants to fight against common acts of violence on women like rape, divorce, dowry, early marriages and polygamy. Reasons for that have been given for these acts of violence on women are:
· Increased levels of poverty in the family set-up;
· Institutionalized cultural values;
· Political unrest;
· Low social-economic status;
· Religious beliefs; and
· Little or no protection.
Avenues of redress:
· Creating economic opportunities for poverty reduction;
· Violence against women;
· Legal literacy and women’s rights;
· Women’s health and education;
· Strengthening women’s roles in local government;
· Building institutional capacity; and
· Deal with the practical, structural and cultural barriers faced by poor women.
· Advocate for the empowerment of women;
· Support those whose lives have been violated, whether in domestic violence, rape, etc, by introducing them to institutions/persons who can help them legally;
· Lobby for legislative changes in the constitutions; and
· Help to support them by educating them.
There will be positive outcomes. These are:
· High moral standards: The number of women prostitution will go down. HIV infection rates will also plummet in the region.
· Self esteem: The women will regain their self esteem and this will make them feel responsible for their homes and children. Their relatives will also respect them.
· Street children: The number of street children will go down because the children will now have stable homes where they are provided for all their basic necessities.
· Petty crime: The crime rates in the town will dwindle since most of the petty crimes are committed by street children. Once they are back into their families, there will be no more need to commit crime.
· Child labour: Most of the children from the disintegrated families look for means of providing for themselves and their siblings. These children are mostly employed as house helps and other dirty jobs which do not pay well and they are usually mistreated.
· Early marriages: Some of the girls from disintegrated families run away from their families and fall victim to men who marry them when they are still of school-going ages. Once the families are stabilized, there will be promotion of the girl-child education.
Aim of Heritage Initiative towards women:
· Bring hope and vitality to widows and orphans through strengthening them in education, health care, counseling and improving their standards of living.
· Work with other NGOs, CBOs, the government and grassroot organizations to bring about improved and intensified poverty reduction strategies.