Mr. Gila’s wife came to the Loko office of Farmers to Markets to say thank-you. Her husband was a member of the UFF (Union Makes Force) farmers’ association in the Dambalia village, and he was changing. Mr. Gila was a “tough guy” and strict about tradition. “The man is almost king,” as Texa Dembele tells it, and “the woman has to work to serve him.” But now Gila had begun working along with his wife when she went to the field, rather than sitting under a tree, as most men do. Mr. Gila’s wife told the Loko staff that if more people in the area could be part of the FTM training, “something will happen!” By the way, the animator of this group (the staff person convening and training the association) is a woman, named Patience. As Texa says, “Pat on the back for Animator Patience!”
A Congolese woman’s life is not easy. Women are treated as minors, in the custody of their husbands. They can’t make legal contracts on their own, or travel out of the country. Almost half of Congolese women cannot read or write. And violence against women is not limited to the combustible eastern side of the country. Women living many miles away have a 17 times greater chance of being raped (by a civilian) than they had a decade ago. That’s an appalling statistic–but is it really a complete surprise, when women in Congo are regarded as worth so much less than men?
From the time we designed the Farmers to Markets microfinance and value-chain program and submitted our proposal to the U.S. Agency for International Development, one of our stated goals was to begin changing the standing of women and the dynamics of decision-making in the family. That’s why we mandated that at least 50% of the farmers participating must be women (the current figure is 52%). Our training of the animators, and so their training of the associations over many months, includes healthy and balanced gender roles.
We don’t claim miracles, but we are seeing signs of change. Mr. Gila and his wife are one good example, especially with the wife’s vision of what could happen in the area if more men could have the experience her husband had. Another is the woman who spoke up in an association meeting, saying, “Now I have a voice! I never had a voice before.” Her opinions had been worth nothing until she was invited to be part of an association with both men and women. In that context, in the presence of men, she was given a role and a voice.
And then there was the group of women who were part of an association along with some men. Before long, they realized that they were being treated unfairly. The men were giving them less of the profits, neglecting to include them in decision-making, and so on. So the women picked up and left and formed their own association. They named it Maman Bongisa, which means “women arrange,” and set about growing corn. At last report, they were doing well.
Pat on the back for all these women and for the FTM leaders–and for everyone who has been a part of this program through gifts of money.
Read more about Farmers to Markets elsewhere on this website.
SAJ 2 May 2012