Sofia Olsson, Enterprise Development Programme Manager, Cherie Blair Foundation
Women make enormous contributions to their economies, through both unpaid care work and paid economic activity. But, all too often, this work is unrecognised, undervalued and underpaid.
This is a serious issue, because when women have the opportunity to succeed economically, they are able to exert greater control over their own lives and the lives of their families. This, in turn, has a huge knock-on effect on communities around the world.
The project I have been managing in the Kibaha district of Tanzania is proof of this. Working in collaboration with the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Tanzania Gatsby Trust, we have provided over 260 women working in textiles, food and soap processing, and poultry farming with the skills and tools they need to strengthen their enterprises.
This includes providing support with core business skills such as marketing, pricing, record keeping, and business plan preparation, as well as more technical training related to the women’s specific business sectors. The project also paired each participant with an experienced business coach, to provide tailored advice and support with troubleshooting specific challenges. As well as providing business support, the project also delivered education sessions on wider issues such as women’s rights, HIV/AIDS, disability and fistula.
The results are fascinating. In a survey undertaken with 114 women after the three-year project recently came to a close, 92% confirmed that they had increased their sales and 91% indicated that their profits had increased since joining the project. All of the women reported that they now keep records, and 72% confirmed that they are saving through their businesses.
The impacts don’t stop there, however. The evaluation found that household members, relatives and the wider community also benefit from the women’s improved financial situation.
Ninety-seven per cent of the women confirmed that their increased business revenue has led to better household nutrition, and 94% reported that they have improved their children’s education, due to their increased ability to pay school fees. On a personal level, there is a strong indication that the initiative has also boosted women’s resilience, with 99% of respondents confirming that they feel more confident since participating in the project. One woman said, “Before I had fear, if someone challenged me negatively, I would go back ten steps. Now I know I can face challenges, and move forward.”
The training on wider issues of women’s rights has also empowered the women to play a stronger role in decision making in their households and the wider community. One participant told us that after attending a training session, she went home and discussed with her husband how they could ensure that their daughter and son would have equal opportunities in relation to the inheritance of their land. Together they agreed that both of their children should have equal access to their inheritance, and subsequently wrote title deeds specifying joint land ownership.
One particularly inspirational outcome has been that over 70 of the women we worked with have taken on leadership roles in their communities. One woman, for example, has been elected to her local council, whilst another has become the head of a local orphanage. One of the project participants who became a leader in her village community bank spoke about how she has become sought after for her expertise: “I am educating my neighbours, I teach them in groups how to raise chickens. Another association who wanted me to come and train their members on raising chickens contacted me. I have also been invited to come and speak on behalf of women in the parliament”.
Women have enormous power to be leaders and drive change in their communities. Our work in Tanzania is proof of this. If we want to create a better world for all, we need to ensure that half of its population have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
Many thanks to the Cherie Blair Foundation