FELIX NKINKE, Senanga
UNLIKE in the past when the kitchen was said to be the womanâ€™s place, women today are considered as key partners in the development agenda.
The realisation has seen policymakers, non-governmental organisations and other interest groups formulating various programmes and projects to empower women at different levels.
These empowerment programmes are quite crucial in rural areas where the majority poor can be found.
Take the choice of Joyce Nanumbili, an entrepreneur in Senanga district in Western Province.
â€œIâ€™m one of the beneficiaries of the women empowerment programme now underway in Senanga district. This initiative has helped several of us here by way of borrowing money through a village bank scheme. This money helps us invest in various small businesses to support our families,â€ Mrs Nanumbili says.
The programme Mrs Nanumbili is referring to is just one of the many the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare is running in the district.
Other than the village bank concept, other programmes being implemented in Senanga include supplying food security packs, farm inputs support and the goat pass-on scheme.
The village bank concept is meant to help women access small loans at very low interest rates.
â€œThe village bank concept is a very important tool towards women access to finance. Five of us teamed up and got a small loan which we invested in a business to raise some income. We continued borrowing until each one of us in the group got empowered,â€ Mrs Nanumbili says.
According to Senanga Community Development assistant officer Ireen Mubukwanu, about 78 women groups have benefited from the banking scheme in the last three years.
â€œThis programme provides simple loans at very low interest rates to women as start-up capital for them to engage in various business ventures to support their families,â€ Ms Mubukwanu says.
To borrow money, women are usually made to form groups of five. The money borrowed is paid back in small amounts every Friday of each week. In this way, the revolving pool fund can be kept alive so that new women can access the same services.
Most of the empowered women engage in a number of income generating activities according to the groupâ€™s interest and ability to execute the business venture profitably.
â€œThe most common income generating activities that we encourage women to venture into are poultry farming, vegetable growing and skills training such as in tailoring and designing as well as in entrepreneurship management,â€ Ms Mubukwanu says.
â€œThis lending facility which Government has facilitated has been very beneficial to rural women because they cannot borrow from big financial institutions like commercial banks because of high interest rates and lack of the required collateral by banks. So this tool has helped improve the livelihood of most beneficiaries.â€
Another success programme in the district is the goat pass-on scheme which has seen dozens of beneficiaries.
Anita Mukosayi, the community development assistant in charge of the programme, says about 200 women in the district have benefited from the goat pass-on scheme.
Ms Mukosayi says the programme does not only enable women raise some income through goat meat sales, but also supplements household nutrition through goat milk consumption.
â€œWe identify women who we evaluate and after getting satisfied that they can manage the project successfully for others to also benefit, we give them the goat. When one person gets a goat, we monitor to ensure that the offspring is passed on to another person who in turn does the same and the chain continues,â€ she says.
Other than those programmes, there is also the input support initiative through which farm inputs are distributed to vulnerable but viable beneficiaries identified in various parts of the district.
Packs containing maize, rice and sorghum seeds including fertiliser are distributed to female small-scale farmers, who after harvest have to pay back in form of a 50kg bag of maize.
However, the smooth implementation of the various women empowerment programmes has been affected by a number of challenges that have somewhat delayed or even derailed progress.
Among the significant ones include delays by the government to release money on time for the programme implementation and the lack of adequate transport for project monitoring purposes.
Under the Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM), 60 women clubs in the district have been empowered through initiatives like chicken rearing small livestock grants, irrigation initiatives and poultry management.
PAM Senanga district agricultural officer Edmore Mangisi says programmes to empower women are being undertaken in four districts in Western and Southern provinces.
Mr Mangisi says the response has been positive as many women have come through to engage in the various programmes being implemented in Senanga.
â€œWe have a village chicken rearing programme to empower women. Each participant gets two birds and many beneficiaries have gone to raise chickens from which they have generated some income to support their families,â€ he says.
Female participants in this programme are also trained in poultry management and disease control to ensure that they handle their chickens profitably. Each women club under this initiative is made up of 30 members and some clubs have raised an average of 200 birds.
Another programme that has empowered many women in the catchment area is the food-processing project. Women entrepreneurs are taught food preservation methods and value addition to generate more income.
â€œWe have this unique cooler product which we simply call a fridge because it is able to keep products fresh from four to five days. Itâ€™s unique because it is made out of clay. Women are able to use this cooler in their homes as well as for trading purposes. They keep their fresh products like meat and chicken for days before being sold,â€ Mr Mangisi says.
Other programmes include the energy serving and efficient clay stoves which only use twigs. Also, a tree planting programme for women is underway in the district as well as an irrigation empowerment initiative.
â€œUnder the irrigation programme, women are given small grants ranging from over K5,000 to K20,000 to buy water pumps for irrigation purposes. This programme is meant to support women to engage in irrigation farming in line with government policy,â€ he says.
â€œIn Southern Province, weâ€™re in Sinazongwe and Pemba while here in Western Province, we are in Kaoma, Nalolo and Senanga. We have seen women get empowered under the PAM programmes and our goal is to capture more women to carry on board.â€
FELIX NKINKE, Senanga