BEFORE independence in 1980, women were treated as secondary class citizens. Means of production were totally controlled by men while women were confined to household chores.
Women in rural areas were the most affected as it was taboo in some cultures for the girl child to be educated during that time.
But today, life for many women in rural areas has changed for the better as they have been empowered through various income generating projects which are being initiated by government and its development partners.
A good example is in Buhera district where the livelihood of many women who were formerly marginalized due to cultural barriers has changed as they now control their own means of production.
This was made possible through the intervention of a local Non Governmental Organization, Self Help Development Foundation (SHDF) and its partners We Effect (Swedish Cooperative Centre) and the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA).
SHDF started operating in 10 wards in Buhera district in 2013, in response to perennial droughts over the past years that really affected communities in the semi-arid rural area.
People in Buhera survive on subsistence farming but climate change has not spared the district either, with rainfall patterns deteriorating every year and yields becoming fewer, factors which have contributed to severe poverty.
According to research by SIDA Buhera has a population of 245 878 of which 90 percent is unemployed.
To mitigate the effects of droughts and climate change, SHDF equipped local villagers with self reliance skills as a means of survival.
Besides solely depending on farming as a survival strategy, SHDF trained villagers to run small enterprises but they lacked business management skills.
In response this challenge, SHDF with the assistance from SIDA and We Effect in 2014 embarked on a three year programme on Enterprise and Development which seeks to capacitate 7 500 entrepreneurs in the district.
To date 6815 entrepreneurs from Buhera have benefited from the programme.
“As an organization we work hands on for the development of women and communities through the promotion of self reliance.80 percent of our members are in rural areas, with 20 percent in urban areas. Of the 20 000 club members, 97 percent are females.
“Currently, our focus is on improving the viability of agriculture sector as a whole with a particular focus on increasing income from agriculture,” said SHDF Director Wadzanayi Vere.
She added: “To this end we are providing capacity building to various groups along different agricultural value chains, such as mentoring of agro dealers, assisting agro dealers in finance mobilization, training farmers in farming as a business, provide horticultural marketers with business management skills, securing business loans for farmers, promoting of food process, output marketing, export processors of dried vegetables and fruits to regional markets.”
As an organization, Vere said, they have a strong gender focus with a fully fledged gender program and have mainstreamed issues around gender, environment and natural resources management in all their activities.
She said SHDF has focused in areas such as Business Development Services, Women`s Rights and Leadership, Vocational Skills Development and Organizational Development.
Under the vocational training, women were equipped with expertise in areas such as textiles technology, making of menstrual pads, detergent manufacturing,handicrafts,fine arts and agro processes while organizational development women`s groups and unions underwent some training in communication, conflict management to mention a few.
Currently in Buhera, SHDF is working with four groups namely Network, Kupfuma Ishungu (Wealth is a product of determination), Tashinga and Kurongeka (Organised).
The groups embark on different various income generating projects ranging from poultry to livestock production.
“Network operates in ward 19 and has a membership of 10 member thus eight women and two men. The group mainly embarks on saving and individual enterprise which includes goat keep, crafts, indigenous chickens and dollies. The groups save $4 000 per annum which is shared amongst the members during year end,” said Vere.
Beneficiaries of the projects expressed their gratifying gratitude to SHDF for its continued support to alleviate poverty in their communities.
One of the beneficiaries is Sophia Muchawira who adopted the conservation farming method during this year`s agricultural season.
He said his yields improved tremendously after implementing the conservation farming concept.
“In the past I used to harvest a few bags of maize that were inadequate for family consumption but this year I harvested 2.5 tonnes of maize,” she said.
Another villager, Rosemary Maramwidze from Kupfuma Ishungu group said she was very poor with no cattle of her own before she joined the savings club but now she is doing very well and now has cows in the cow fattening enterprise.
“At first I could not contribute a single cow to cattle fattening enterprise but after sharing the group savings amounting to $400 in 2015 I managed to buy goats which increased my capital base until I managed to buy a cow to contribute to the cow fattening group,” she said.
Speaking after tour of the projects, Swedish, Deputy Ambassador and Head of Development Corporation, Maria Selin said she was impressed by the projects which were being carried by SHDF to empower marginalized communities.
She said she was happy in particular with the involvement of women in such projects, adding that such projects besides empowerment they were also uniting families.
“We are happy that the funds we are channeling to such projects are changing lives. We are also excited that these projects have strengthened and united families,” she said.
Ambassador Selin also thanked the local community for working hard to change their lives.
“I encourage you to impart the knowledge you have gained through the programmes to other communities and districts,” she said.
SHDF is operating in 32 districts across the country. The districts include Chimanimani, Mutare, Mutasa, Makoni, Nyanga, Hwedza, Mutoko, Nkayi to mention a few.