One of my more recent projects focused on women’s engagement. Financial systems and traditional norms neglect women in rural areas. 78% females working in agriculture in Zambia, yet Rent to Own serves less than 30% women. Ultimately, we want to increase these numbers to reflect the population.
After reading up on gender, I interviewed gender experts in Zambia. This provided context unavailable in research papers and kept the project on the right path. One expert named Felly boiled it down, “ask the women what they want first”. Women might not even want the equipment or pricing structures we offered. Another gender advisor, named Tidzitwa, suggested that we involve husbands in the decision making to win their support.
Meeting the Savings Groups
Ivy, a gender advisor from Profit Plus, conducted some gender activities with the groups. While the sessions were ran in the local language, I took away quite a bit:
- Men typically sit in the chairs and women on mats
- Older women speak up more than younger women in mixed-gender contexts
- Women bought their kids to the meetings
- Men fear for women to earn money because they might leave
- Men recognized that women did a hard work and weren’t paid
- Families shared decision making, but men had the final say
- Men who take care of kids would be treated differently or mocked by the community
In one instance, we handed our product catalog to the group of women. A older woman pointed to an image of another older female beside a welding machine. Earlier in my fellowship, I re-designed the product catalogs to include client stories and selling facts. This small change actually mattered!