Empowered Women Drive Economies – Creating a friendly business environment for women
Did you know? In the regions of Gao and Segou in Mali, less than 5 percent of land managers are women, but more than 30 percent of these women are head of households, often widows, responsible for food, healthcare, and school fees for their children.
The national gender policy in Mali, launched in 2011, indicates that in the region of Segou, 77 percent of female farm workers do not receive any compensation. Of these, only 18 percent work for themselves. In addition, the study shows that just 10 percent of female farm workers own working animals and plows, and only 20 percent can afford small farm equipment. Without their own land heritage as collateral, rural women have fewer opportunities to access funding for their activities through the traditional financial system. To mitigate these inequalities that hinder the country’s competitiveness internationally, the government of Mali calls for “solidarity with the most disadvantaged populations, particularly towards women and rural youth, through the principle of equity and the implementation of specific actions to fight against poverty.” Using this window of opportunity, 2SCALE initiated a series of actions to increase access to land for female vegetable growers involved in a vegetable partnership in Segou.
The recognition of women’s contribution to economic development, through their participation in productive markets and equal access to agribusiness opportunities, is at the heart of the 2SCALE intervention. Past efforts to create an enabling business environment generally focused on women’s civil rights rather than their economic empowerment.
“Many projects approach the inclusion of women from the perspective of equality. I do not think this is an effective strategy,” says Mahamadou Nantoumé, director of Toguna SA, an agricultural inputs company in Mali. “Every country has its own culture and its own values, when we explain to farmers or other actors that they need to involve women because it is a matter of human rights, they immediately become defensive. What we should do, in my opinion, is to demonstrate the economic benefit of doing business with women.”
Learning from mistakes made in the past, 2SCALE started by identifying and involving men of influence in strategic issues such as women’s access to land. From the inception of the vegetable partnership in Segou, 2SCALE managed to involve the chief of Sébougou village himself in all meetings surrounding the onion business. In a second phase, local authorities were encouraged to join the business meetings.
Chief Koke Coulibaly found himself at the core of the onion business: “I participate in all of the women’s meetings, since my home is the meeting venue. For this reason, the other men of the village now treat me as a woman’s slave. I am not ashamed of this. I am even proud to be treated like this. Village living conditions have significantly improved in recent years, and all the credit goes to women. With the income they earn from vegetable production, our women breathe life into their households and the local economy. Since the women are making more money, our girls are no longer seeking work in the city, where their lives are often difficult and families back in the village suffer from the separation. Now, our girls are going to school, thanks to the hard work of their mothers and their grandmothers. The onion business brought stability to our homes. For my part, I say that we and our land belong to our women.”
Under the gentle pressure of Coulibaly, the municipality of Segou granted 18 hectares of fertile land to women associations. It’s a drop in the bucket, but an unprecedented move in the history of the village.