In Sub-Saharan Africa, improving the living conditions of smallholder farmers is directly associated with the empowerment of women. Female cotton farmers do most of the work in the field and at home, but often do no possess the same rights and position as men. Against this backdrop, Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) advocates women's rights and their position in society as well as in business together with local partners, the CmiA certified cotton companies. To enable women to step into economic and social independence, CmiA and its partners are helping to set up women clubs, supporting income-generating projects for women's groups and implement gender equality measures within the cotton growing areas.
Having equal rights, an own bank account or land as well as the liberty to spend the money they work for on the fields and in the households is still a challenge for many women in rural Africa. This is why CmiA invests in women empowerment activities. Together with cotton companies and partners CmiA sets up women’s clubs, gives financial support for women empowerment measures and initiates positions for gender officers within CmiA certified cotton companies. Gender Officers help to kick-start income-generating activities for women clubs and support them implementing their projects. Women clubs are founded as a result of joint cotton farming and give women the opportunity to organize themselves, set up own projects, earn an additional income and become role models for other women.
Just recently, our colleague Nina Schöttle, Junior Project Manager responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation at the Aid by Trade Foundation, travelled to Zambia to attend Focus Group Discussions with women clubs and a Gender Officer Workshop. The aim was to monitor and evaluate the impact of CmiA's women empowerment measures. The focus group discussions were conducted with three different women’s clubs – the Tuyandane women‘s club in Nampundwe region and the Shakunkuma women‘s club in Nampundwe region who have both set up goat rearing as well as the Choolwe women‘s club in Sinazongwe region who created a tailoring project. All clubs have a constitution and designated roles, such as a chair lady, a secretary, a treasurer, trustees and executive members. They have regular meetings, usually once per week.
During the Focus Group Discussions, different aspects such as the club activities, the personal motivation and consequences of being a club member for individual members as well as continuous challenges and areas of improvement have been discussed. The members concluded that being organized in a group and getting support by a gender officer helps them to exchange ideas and knowledge. They are teaching each other in different skills and support each other also emotionally. As a consequence, they are put in the position to only increase their income but also gain more autonomy and self-confidence.
To successfully set up women’s clubs and implement their projects, gender officers – such as Merit Tembo (Alliance cotton company), Violet Mandauka (Highland cotton trading) and Nyambe Muchindu (CGL) – play a crucial role in Zambia. The three of them give moral support when the clubs are facing difficulties and give practical advice for the implementation of activities. They help the clubs to structure their ideas and to make solid plans for the future. The trainings gender officers conduct goes far beyond cotton training and comprises also topics such as HIV/AIDS and gender, basic economic skills (financial and household planning), nutrition, child labour, safety issues (e.g. not to spray during pregnancy) and last but not least gender roles at home.
When asked about the perception of gender training topics among farmers, Merit, Violet and Nyambe could identify a significant shift since they started their work: Several years ago, farmers were uninterested and unwilling to learn about gender. Today, they are perceived and adopted better in general, the gender officers reported. This shift can be also traced back to a change in the farmers base: More women now have their own contracts with the cotton companies. Additionally, there are also more female lead farmers who guide fellow farmers in sustainable and efficient farming techniques. As a consequence, an increased number of women attend trainings, speak up and give input during the trainings, Merit, Violet and Nyambe explained. Overall, about 16% of CmiA’s farmers base is female.
By implementing women empowerment measures, CmiA aims to help strengthen the rights and position of women in society. The income earned as a group is kept by the treasurer and if a certain amount is reached, the money is equally distributed among the members or reinvested to grow their business, help other women in need or finance school fees for their kids.
Nina Schöttle concluded: "I was deeply impressed by the female farmers in Zambia who set up their own businesses to become financially independent. I am happy that with the promotion of women's projects, we can support them in kick-starting their business ideas. I was impressed to see the great motivation of the female farmers to realize their own projects for the benefit of their families and learn more about the impact the gender officers have on the empowerment of women in rural Zambia. "
In 2018, the gender officers in Zambia have been financially supported by the Ana Kwa Ana Foundation, a foundation for women and children in need initiated by Janina Özen-Otto, daughter of CmiA founder Prof. Dr. Michael Otto. The women clubs get additional support by Rewe Group and Corman All gender activities are realized in close cooperation with the local cotton companies such as Alliance, Highland Cotton Trading and CGL in Zambia.