Empowering women in micro-enterprise

Micro EnterpriseBusiness

by Rina Teeuwen   

Afghanistan has gone through a time of turmoil. The civil war has resulted in many people having to flee their homes and an increase in crime, drug addiction, oppression and unemployment. The people who are best placed  to transform the lives of women in this situation are the Afghan women  themselves.   

ORA International in Afghanistan has helped numerous Self-help groups (SHGs) form. They are made up of 15 to 20 women  from the same road. The SHG provides space and support for each member to identify and use opportunities for her to  become empowered in her life. 

SHG representatives form a Cluster level association (CLA) after they have been  part of a SHG fornine to 12 months. A CLA covers a larger geo graphical area and represents many SHGs. It helps to address social and financial needs, and also provides some of the financial support  for the facilitator. Later a Federation is formed with representatives from the CLAs  to address even greater issues, such as participating in political decisions. 

The foundations of this approach are as follows:   

  • Everyone has God-given poten tial. This potential can be released if the right environment and nurturing is provided. 
  • As individuals, people in poverty may be voiceless, powerless and vulnerable, but working together as a group gives them strength.

SHGs teach the women to contribute a small amount of money each week to a  group fund. In turn they can then take a  loan to start or develop a business. The loan can be as small as US$10 and is paid  back in ten instalments with a one per cent  administration fee.

Training is given about topics related to economic growth and social change.  All activities are initiated by the SHG members. This means there is ownership  from the start. As it is their own money that is invested in various enterprises there is more incentive to make them successful. 

Results 

Women are growing in confidence.  They are learning to chair meetings, to summarise decisions and to voice their  opinions. 

Their self-esteem is growing as they are able to save and invest in enterprises. Their day-to-day attitude to life is improving. 

Family members pay the women more respect as they are able to run a business. 

The women are addressing social needs in their community, including domestic abuse and human rights. 

The CLA members are taking responsibility for the wider community. They are representing the SHGs at local meetings,  establishing links with other organisations and developing members capacities through activities, such as literacy or  kitchen gardening. 

The women often start small, such as selling tea or boiled eggs. Some of them involve their family in activities, such as starting a second-hand clothes business.   

The CLAs have also initiated literacy classes, established a community transport scheme and attended training sessions organised by the government. Businesses are growing, shops expanding and workshops are being  pened. The CLAs also work towards better communities. For example, the number of child marriages has been reduced and more children now attend school. 

Lessons learnt 

The most important lessons learnt during  the last five years are: 

  • Facilitators should be well-trained to encourage the women to share their ideas.
  • Initiatives suggested by the facilitators did not have ownership by the SHG and failed. 
  • The women should be allowed to take the lead but the facilitators should coach them and challenge them.
  • Businesses should start small, as the women do not have previous experience, especially of investing in a businesse. 
  • Patience is needed as this process takes time. 

Rina Teeuwen is a Self Help Approach consultant.  Email: teeuwen5@yahoo.com 

For more information, contact: 

Mrs Khalida Hafi zi, National Co-ordinator, Self Help  Approach Programme, OpMercy, Afghanistan.  Email: selfhelpapproach.afg@mercy.se  or khalida_hafi zi@yahoo.com