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Women beat poverty through business

14 August 2015



By Therese Leine Sogard

«Can number seven please approach?

‘Number seven’ stands up from the patterned straw mat, rubs away the folds in her pink dress and approaches the five women that have been elected to run the savings box. She puts her week’s savings amount in a blue plastic bowl before the notes are moved to the box.

The secretary of the group, Ramatou Yayé (45), arranges her white laced hijab. She opens her notebook carefully and writes down the amounts the women submit. When the group meets every Thursday at 2 pm, they save 500 XFA-franc (approx. 0,85 USD) each.

After a little while it is possible to take up a loan from the box. Members can use the loans to invest in, for instance, a goat or a patch of land. Instalments and interest rates are decided by the group itself and the profit is divided between the women. In this way they have been able to save up larger sums of money to use for more complex income generating activities, household expenditures or school for their children. These women have stayed together since the year 2000. They call their group «Patience», which is exactly what you need as a woman in Niger, and a lot of it.

On last place
«If I could do something to better women’s situation in Niger, I would empower them financially so that they can care for themselves,» says Ramatou.

According to the UN’s human development index, Niger comes out last of 187 states. Born an average girl in Niger, is not fair. Women are systematically discriminated against in almost all aspects of society: in their families, in business, in education. 75 percent of people living below the poverty line, are women. And only nine percent of Niger’s female population can read and write.

«I was attending school until the 6th grade, but I couldn’t pass my exam, so I had to drop out,» Ramatou explains.

Ramatou’s story is the norm. If you cannot attend school in a country like Niger, what do you do?

Marry.

Ramatou married at 14 years old. Her lack of education meant there were few possibilities to get a job, so she completely depended upon her husband.

Occasional contributions

Ramatou did not have children with her first husband. She divorced at 22 and remarried. She now lives in a polygamous marriage, as many women do in Niger. She now depends on her second husband’s occasional contributions to household expenditures.

One day some women asked her if she wanted to join a savings and loan group that CARE was about to establish. In addition to getting a better understanding of economics, she was given the opportunity to improve her erading and writing.

When asked whether she is literate now, she laughs: «Come on, I’m the secretary. Of course, I can read and write.»

But even more important for the 45-year-old Ramatou was the feeling that she could take care of herself financially and not depend on her husband to provide for their children. With her savings from the group she began by selling couscous. Now she has invested in goats and has started to breed them. In the backyard she has both grown goats and little goat kids.

«Now I can cover my own and my family’s needs without waiting for my husband. He even asks me for a loan sometimes.»

« Does he always pay you back?»

«Oh yes! If he doesn’t pay me back he knows he won’t get any more loans later,» she says.

The strong sun heats up the village to almost 40 degrees Celsius. But in the house where the group meets, it’s cool. They always meet in the house of the mayor in Hamdallaye because his wife was the former president in the group. The sand floor is covered by straw mats, and in the corner there is a massive wooden table and a yellow office chair. The four wheels are not so useful in the sand. Everybody is quiet and waiting for instructions from the elected leaders.

In the six years Ramatou has been the secretary, she has gained a lot of self-confidence. Now she is not afraid to speak up in her community.

Patience has given the women a possibility to build up equity, a self-confidence to climb steadily out of extreme poverty.

Facts about savings and loan groups

CAREs village savings and loan groups are one of the most powerful tools in fighting poverty and empowering women. The first groups where established in Niger in the beginning of the 1990s. Since then CARE has started more than 150,000 groups with 3.8 million members in 26 African countries. In Niger more than 350,000 women have joined 13,500 groups. In a group members are given the possibility to save money in a secure way, to take up loans for investments and they also have access to a fund for emergencies. Many groups also start their own cereal bank and they invest in irrigation systems and vegetable gardens so that their village can prepare for hardship and drought. In Niger the organized women constitute a national movement called «Mata Masu Dubara» (MMD), or «Women With Guts».

Facts about Niger

Population: Approx. 17 million

Niger is placed in the middle of the Sahel region in West Africa and share borders with amongst others Nigeria, Mali and Chad.

It is extremely hot and dry in Niger, and the lack of natural resources has led to several famines.

In 2014 Niger was ranked number 187 (last place) in UN’s development index

Litteracy amongst women: 9 %

Litteracy amongst men: 23 %

Photo: © Therese Leine/CARE.

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