In one remote village in Ethiopia, I met women who are coming together to learn, build businesses and change attitudes about the role of women in society
The village of Ayda Kebele is extremely remote. The dirt road to the village is largely inaccessible during rainy season, and walking to the nearest town along the hillside could take up to 3 hours. There is no electricity in the community, and water can be a scarce resource.
I travelled to this remote location in South Omo, Ethiopia to meet a Self Help Group for women called ‘Zefsi’. Ethiopia is a country of almost 100 million people, and its rapidly growing population is expected to double by 2050. The country is incredibly diverse, with over 85 different ethnic groups and most of the major religions are represented.
However, deep-rooted traditions result in inequality between women and men in almost all areas of life. Women and girls are denied access and control over resources, as well as access to basic services such as education, health, and information. Additionally, they experience high levels of gender-based violence and early marriage.
The self help group I met with aims to address this issue of gender inequality. The group is supported by Women Support Association (WSA), one of Trócaire’s local partner organisations.
I met with 13 inspiring women from this group and heard about their activities, the challenges they face and how the group of women come together to support each other.
Despite the challenges of living in such a remote location, the women I met with are extremely positive about the future. Their groups formed two years ago, and since then, they have saved money regularly as a group in order to get capital to start a small group business in the area.
They want to open a small village shop to provide necessary supplies to the community and they are in the process of establishing a small community kitchen garden. Some of the women have also started their own individual businesses through taking loans from the group savings scheme.
For example, one woman now runs a small poultry business. Previously, women were reliant on money lenders who charged exorbitant interest rates and lured them into a cycle of debt. Through borrowing from their self-help group, women are charged a modest 3% interest rate and can negotiate their terms of repayment depending on their individual circumstances.
Since the formation of their group, WSA has also provided trainings to the women, including business skills, literacy and numeracy. Women are also supported to examine the unequal balance of power within their homes and in the community.
WSA also works with men in the community to encourage them to share women’s work burden. Through this work, the women explained that many of their husbands are now much more supportive of their attendance at the weekly self-help group meetings, and are also helping more with household chores.
For some women, being able to read and write has been transformational. One woman explained: “before I wasn’t able to read a single word, but now I know how much we have saved as a group. Before, people used to give us written documents, and all we would see were the colours on the page, but now we can read the document and understand it”.
Through these practical skills trainings, as well as supporting the group to come together regularly to discuss and find solutions to problems they face in the community and in their homes, WSA has supported these women to have a vision for their future.
These women have developed strong bonds of trust and friendship, providing a safe space for women to turn to in times of need.
As I was leaving, one of the women said to me “In two years we have changed this much, we’re excited about the future now!”