Work from Home


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

We are looking to expand our Advocate programme as it helps us help African women help themselves out of poverty.
Advocates are people that go out and promote our work either by telling people they know about our work or by helping us to sell our products.
The advocates that help us to sell our products can be anyone looking to earn an extra income or stay at home Mums with no income at all.
We offer a handsome commission to the sales advocates as well as an opportunity for them to buy the products from Ethnic Supplies at a whole sale price.

If you would like further information about this programme or our work in general please take a look at our website www.ethnicsupplies.co.uk