African women


When I was at University one of the core modules for my area of study Housing Management and development was DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE LAW. Domestic violence was considered in the context of property rights but for the purpose of this article I would like to look at the impact of domestic abuse on the economy.

A tall order perhaps but bear with me whilst I illustrate my point.

The fact about domestic abuse is that it ebbs away at the confidence and self esteem of the person at the receiving end of it. It makes them question their self worth making ineffective in all areas of their lives.

Imagine if you will a woman who is responsible for ensuring that the family is fed, clothed and has to work the land to grow the food to feed the family but is beaten by her spouse on a daily basis!

In some cases she is indeed the sole bread-winner in the family as the man’s income is spent on alcohol! What sort of life would children growing up in such a household have to look forward too!

It is widely accepted well as least in the case of African countries that the economic development of these countries rests with women. That being the case what would happen if women are ordinarily unable to participate in economic generating activities due to domestic abuse?

Does society owe such women the duty of care to secure the economic development of a county? What form should that care take?

I am happy to note that in Nigeria steps are being taken to address the issue of domestic abuse. The idea is to provide some for of safe house for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. You can read the rest of the story here
http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/editorial_opinion/article01/indexn2_html?pdate=111009&ptitle=Transit%20Home%20For%20Female%20Victims%20Of%20Domestic%20Violence

The question is most African countries are so conservative, how will such a facility go down in society? Will women have the courage to seek support and refuge in such a facility?

What will their peers make of it?

My first job as a Social Housing practitioner saw me in charge of just such a facility here in the UK and it gave women new hope and a chance to rebuild their lives and those of their children.

I am therefore hopefully that this type of facility becomes common practice in African countries too.

 

As usual your points of view are welcome

If you have followed my blog the over the past  week, you are now at the end of my journey through East Africa.

Leaving Africa I headed back to the UK where I live with a renewed sense of I MUST DO MORE TO HELP GET THESE WOMEN HANDICRAFTS AND TEXTILES TO MARKET!

I had seen women in dire circumstances but doing whatever they could to help themselves out of poverty, without feeling sorry for themselves whatever neither did they ask for handouts of money. One by one they asked that we  share our skills with them so that they could improve their products and be able to compete in world markets, they asked for  fair access to world markets and skills to enable them to serve the sick in their communities!

I also felt that although money was important to kick start programmes it was not necessarily the only factor in efforts to end poverty for reasons of exclusion and practices such as those of Vulture Funds amongst other things. In my minds eye the answer lay in Trade as this is a more sustainable route out of poverty and yet Africa lags behind other continents in trade terms and international trade is very low.

It is largely agreed that the economies of countries cannot grow or be sustained on the basis of international loans or grants. This is certainly true for African women too. The governments/economies lending or giving the money do not have an infinite amount from which to lend/give indefinitely. As well as being unsustainable it is undignified.

Consideration should be given to the kind of trade that adds value at source wherever possible to enable governments to generate income through increased tax revenue. The process of value addition must encompass investments in human resources to ensure that women in particular have the right skills to lift their families out of poverty. There are more details about this on www.raisetrade.com

I hope that my recent blogs have given you the reader an insight of what life if like for folk on the ground and that it ahs demonstrated that resolving poverty in Africa is not simply about the money. I would be interested in others’ view points as well as experiences on issues relating to poverty in Africa

Over the past two weeks I have written about my travels in East Africa last year and what poverty in Africa is really like and shared the views of folk I work with on the ground. In the last thread I wrote about the folk in Ruhanga  and the search for clean water

Leaving Ruhanga behind I headed to Kampala the capital city of Uganda and I reflected on a statistic, I had read in that days’ paper

it said “the gap between the rich and the poor has widened in Uganda and life expectancy has dropped to 43 due to HIV and AIDS

If that is the case where is the country headed I wondered and being 43 myself (at the time) that means I am considered very old here whilst the UK where I live  I potentially have another 30 or 40 years of life ahead of me!

Once in Kampala I called in on the Mbuya Charity who are based in the slums of Kampala and support women affected by HIV and AIDS.

Mbuya is a suburb of Kampala and on the face of it is pretty affluent, it is home to some in the expat community, local celebrities as well the rich of Uganda. But dig deep and you come across appalling slums especially with an area referred to as zone 6.

The Chair person of Mbuya charity Jolly Wako lives in zone 7 this too has pockets of slums especially where Jolly lives incredibly her house borders a trendy bar is separated by a fence ironically called Zone 7, this bar belongs to a local celebrity and his brothers.

Jolly’s husband died in a motor accident and she has had to bring up their children single handily and against all odds  2 have made it to University and she expects the third to follow suit.

I came across this charity through an online registry calling itself Uganda Women’s network. As it was not possible for me to visit in person a company representative went to check them out and reassured me that this is a group that we could work with

I am therefore here to meet the group for the very first time and learn about their work, hopes and fears, successes and challenges. When arrive Jolly is at home alone and explains that this being a Wednesday it is a day for outreach work and as such most of the women are out in the field.

Jolly in Blue with a straw mat weaver

Jolly in Blue with a straw mat weaver

I ask what is involved in the outreach work.

Jolly: most of the 120 women are HIV positive and are on medication as well as receiving counselling. The out reach workers ensure that the women take their medication correctly,  are well fed as well as encouraging slum dwellers to go for HIV tests.

The group aims are to encourage peer support especially as regards to income generating activities. Jolly informs me that they have no support from anyone.

I ask her what sort of support/help the group is looking for?

Jolly: our biggest challenge is lack of counselling skills! Most of the women we work with need a trained counsellor to help them come to terms with their diagnosis. We do our best but we are hardly qualified for the task at hand. It would be great if we could access such training so that we can do the much needed work.

We are grateful to our friends who are helping us access external markets with our handcrafts and beads. Are aware that as soon as people realised that we were making beads suing old calendars and magazines they started selling them to us?
No I wasn’t aware I was surprised but realised too how naïve I was. Of course old calendars and magazines are raw materials for Jolly and her group who require them in their business in order to produce beads for sale and quite rightly those that have this raw material would sale it to them as this is income for them too. This got me thinking about all the magazines and old calendars that are thrown away in the UK perhaps a subject for another article

Before I left Jolly, I put in a call to a contact of mine at the Saatchi and Saatchi branch of Kampala who agreed to give Jolly and her group the free paper they need for the beads.

He was surprised when I told him where I was calling from the owner of the trendy bar next door is his best friend but he had no knowledge of the poverty beyond the perimeter wall!

housing poverty Mbuya zone 6 Uganda

housing poverty Mbuya zone 6 Uganda

The contrast between the homes of the poor and the rich here is astounding. The rich people’s homes are set in large grounds with perimeter walls along with large dogs to keep the undesirables out. over the fence are rusty tin houses with no running water or inside toilets, the people in these slums share a  communal latrine, (the two door shed in the above picture)  children run around with shoes on their feet these are the very people that clean and scrub the homes of the rich they  are grateful to have such work as it brings in a much needed income and they are fed

better housing beyond the perimeter wall

better housing beyond the perimeter wall

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by some of the things I see during the course of my work, but my visit to this Ugandan Charity pulled a few heart strings. As an individual there is very little I can do to change these women’s circumstnaces. What they asking for is simply someone to shae skills with them  is that too much?

If you would like to help Jolly and the Mbuya charity please get in touch. If you have views or thoughts you would like to share regarding any of the issues raised here, it will be a pleasure to here from you

Yesterday  I introduced Flotea one of our textile producers .  Flotea had left me with so much to think about and I when went to sleep  that night I wondered what the next day would be like as I was due to meet Elihaika who is also a textile producer for Ethnic Supplies.

Elihaika (on the right)

Elihaika (on the right)

Elihaika set up her Textile business in 2004 and initially designed clothing for the local market. Like other textile producers in Tanzania, she wanted access to a much wider market so she joined local groups and through these she got into large exhibitions and managed to access markets in nearby countries.

Today she works with 500 other women and is the team leader of Hand Products Of Tanzania (HOT) a group made up of 35 female entrepreneurs from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Her role is to promote the work of the group and to ensure that they have access to public funding to enable them to participate in high profile events. Some of the group’s members such as Julia are semi or illiterate and rely on her for issues such as pricing

Julia

Julia

I told Elihaika about my conversation with Omari and asked about what life is like for women in Tanzania.

Elihaika: some are financially dependent some are not: where a woman has independent income she has control over it and it gives her spending power whilst those without financial independence are always asking their husbands for money and there is no guarantee that they will get it or that it will meet their needs. If a man is in charge of the money chances are arguments will arise, men don’t like it when women ask them for money and find this irritating and despise women that ask them for money constantly this in turn frustrates the woman as the woman as she doesn’t want to ask money but has no choice.

Are there Systems and processes in place to support women to become economically independent?

Elihaika: things are changing even in the rural areas, land is more accessible to women and the government is keen for women to own property. It is however up to the women to take advantage of the opportunities that have been provided. For instance family/marital property can pass to women banks have become accessible to women, micro finance is available too and if women take up these opportunities up then they can become financially independent. Women have a big role in economic development as they participate in production, create jobs and are responsible for children especially in the area of education. This (education) is important as it is the key role eradicating poverty.

With that in mind what are the challenges women in Tanzania face?

Elihaika:

  • Access to working capital is still an issue for women without formal education.
  • For those involved in textile production market access is  a problem
  • Access to overseas markets
  • help with designing of products that are suitable for foreign markets
  • African customs and culture, still place men on pedestals, where women are meant to be subservient, there are still areas that believe in certain jobs being unsuitable for girls
  • property rights for women are still restricted in some parts even with the government legislation -girls can’t inherit  property and confined to  a life of poverty
  • exclusion from education
  • lack of control on household income and have not say how this is spent

I gave some thought to these challenges and naively or not I concluded that with a great deal of WILL and commitment almost all of them can be eliminated. It also seemed to me that women must strive for financial independence and one way that we can all help  is to give women the tools they need to develop the skills that they require to take advantage of the initiatives created by governments and donors. But how do we get around the issue of market access especially access to overseas markets?

We probably can’t do much about the culture that places men on pedestals at the expense of women in Africa but if women gain financial independence an element of that culture may fade out on its own.

I left Tanzania the next day and head to Uganda. I will be writing about my experiences there in the next post. As usual it you have a view either way, I would love to hear from you.

This week I have been looking at the notion of money and poverty in Africa. The question I get asked often and one I would like to try and answer in this thread is  How do things work on the ground?.

I will approach it from the point of view of the women I work with and draw from my visit to Tanzania and Uganda in 2008.

Having left Omari I was collected from my hotel by Flotea one of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers. She was two hours late and I was unhappy about this until I heard her reasons.

Flotea

Flotea

Flotea is an amazing woman who left school at a very young age with no qualification to speak of this meant that she was excluded from formal employment and the only skills she had were embroidery skills.  she started out by making table linen and curtains for her own home, when her neighbours saw the quality of her work they asked if she could make home furnishings for them too and soon word had got out and she had a list of customers. She soon outgrew the space in her two room house, and had to extend it, as well as widening her range to include African tote bags Flotea’s idea has grown beyond her imagination and today she employees 30 women from the slums of Dar es Salaam. She shares what skills she has with women less fortunate than she is through workshops on textile production and design

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

Hippos cushions cover by Flotea

After the initial pleasantries I asked her about her morning and it transpired that she wanted to expand her business so that she can take on more staff. In order to do so she wanted to move to larger premises built from scratch and for two years she had been trying to buy a piece of land for the new premises without much luck.

She had therefore decided to hand over the whole matter to a Solicitor and that meeting had over run and therefore she couldn’t get to me on time. I was truly shocked by what Flotea had just told me which seemed to validate part of what Omari had told me earlier that morning.

I could see clearly why it was important to have commercial systems streamlined and made more efficient to enable businesses to function more effectively. How on earth do you expand a business when acquiring a piece of  land for the new premises is a two year process and that is before the construction process begins? I told Flotea about my meeting with Omari and the general points we had covered especially the MONEY!

Flotea looked me in the eye and said “I pity any African who believes that some external person/outsider will come and resolve our problems, because I tell you what they will be waiting for a long time”

This is a strong statement and it raised another question in my mind. African women like Flotea are not expecting handouts and expect to work hard in order to get ahead all things being equal, so why do we in the West have this notion of giving more money?

As we continue the conversation about my morning Flotea is not very keen to be drawn on the issues of what happens to the AID money. She insists that the politicians have the answers to this question. She felt that institutions do not appear to have any interest in the small man on the street therefore she just minds her own business!

Flotea argued that the government merely plays lip service to women’s issues and that in fact unless women work together to share skills and resources they are unlikely to succeed. She told me that there are large numbers of women in Tanzania involved in textile production however there is no institution where these women can go and learn about textile and design. They instead rely on skills sharing where those who know teach those that do not. In her mind this is the one thing that would change life for most women especially the slum dwellers.

Other challenges included

  • Lack of IT and communication skills
  • Access to markets the lack of information means  they don’t always know what market demands are

I spent the rest of the afternoon and the best part of the evening with Flotea and her team and I taught them how to use email and PICASA Google’s photographs programme. this would enable them to share photos of their products with folk all over the world. Flotea appreciated this and as I left her she told me this is what we need people to come in and share what they know with us!

So there you have it folk, for women like Flotea, it really isn’t about the money! In the enxt post I will introduce another of the Ethnic Supplies textile producers whose view is somewaht different from that of Flotea. In the mean time if you have a view either way on any of the issues raised here please share it