To mark International Women’s Day 2018, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the first in our “Press for Progress” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.
It is an exciting time for women around the globe with awareness of women’s rights activism on the rise through movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo bringing attention to overlooked harassment and treatment of women in the workplace. Additionally, it is an especially exciting time for rural Ghanaian women partaking in MEDA’s GROW program. Considering the United Nation’s International Women's Day (8 March) theme “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives”, MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women project (GROW) has been doing just that in the Upper Western Region of Ghana.
GROW focuses on improving food security by assisting over 21,000 women soybean farmers to increase soybean yields through a variety of approaches. These approaches include broadening subsidized access to new farming technology through commercial outlets, such as MotorKing tricycles to transport their soya to market. By enlisting the support of GROW’s 27 Male Gender Activists (MGAs) to educate households on gender equality and encourage spousal support for women’s access to land, GROW is including all community members to further its mission of economic empowerment of rural women. Providing educational nutrition and cooking workshops on using soy to diversify their farming products is another way the GROW program has assisted women to increase their own agricultural yields and empower their financial independence.
Launching a region wide conversation amongst influencers in rural communities for women to gain more land tenure access, a long-standing barrier to financial independence and food security was yet another milestone GROW achieved in 2017. Working together with Chiefs and landowners, GROW farmers were forefront to the land tenure dialogue which occurred in November 2017. Over 1000 individuals attended and represented 238 GROW communities covering eight districts in the Upper West region of Ghana. Increasing long term access to land year-round is paramount to sustainable agricultural production which has been a key activity for the GROW program. In Ghana less than 10% number of women own the land they farm on, holding them back from being able to plan their farming efforts for the future.
GROW’s multifaceted approach for the past 6 years has affected the lives of 21,378 women. One of those women is Rahama Mahama, a mother of four and a member of the Sumbaala GROW group in the community of Dorimon. Rahama first become involved in GROW through one of its five Key Facilitating Partners, the Community Aid for Rural Development (CARD). Rahama comes from a farming family, as many GROW women do. She noticed that her farming efforts still weren’t enough to meet her family’s economic needs covering vital health and education expenses for her children. Having been part of the GROW project since 2013, Rahama decided to try a different approach besides solely relying on raw sales of soy bean in the market to support her family.
” After going through GROW’S nutritional training…. I was enlightened on the various utilizations of the soya bean so I opted for processing and selling soya kebab. My husband gave me Gh100 to start when I informed him about my plans to start the business.” - Rahama.
Today Rahama processes and sells her soya kebabs not only within her own community, but in neighboring communities such as Tanvare and Vieri at each of their respective market days. A single stick of her soya kebab sells for 50p and she can sell 100 sticks per market day with a profit of 20p per stick. With this added income, Rahama’s standard of living has improved substantially. She uses the added revenue from her soy kebab business to pay for her family’s health-related expenses, tariff and school fee payments. The skills she obtained during the GROW nutritional trainings have given her the ability, foresight and encouragement to prepare and sell new dishes as a new income generating stream as well as providing a more diverse diet for her family. Further, the improved financial security for Rahama, and other women participating in the GROW program, has empowered women by becoming more financial independent.
“The business is helping me to be free economically and nutritionally now because from the experience gained from GROW, I prepare a balanced diet for my family from the previous TZ daily, I wish to expand my output daily by employing more people to enable me supply” - Rahama.
Rahama is only one example of women who are using the newly acquired skills and knowledge from GROW’s nutrition training and becoming entrepreneurs.
Although this year’s theme for the United Nation’s International Women’s Day is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives”, it is important to remember that these essential changes towards women’s empowerment take time. For the UN the time might be now, but the GROW program has been working tirelessly for the past six years to see these social and economic changes come to fruition for women smallholder farmers in Ghana. We are seeing the gains and benefits of this work come to life through women like Rahama. Continuing to work on empowering rural women’s rights to land, new skills training and a focus on gender sensitization is vital for the achievements of GROW to be long lasting.