Saturday, 16 May 2015

Women are hungry for a chance to talk.

Women are hungry for a chance to talk. An open conversation that everyone will participate. In my experience as missionary, I have discovered that many women in rural areas or urban areas, are not participating in conversation of their community concerns. Many want to tell their story, their concerns and their struggles but they have not given an opportunity. In most of cases, they feel isolated, strange even ignored.  The church is a place where women are getting in conversation to help end all the frustrations.  Change will not come from the leader’s plan but change begins from deep inside a system, when a few people notice something they will no longer tolerate such as poverty or respond to a dream of what’s possible than will start.                                          

Women in the Southern Abidjan district of the United Methodist Church in Cote d’Ivoire believes in conversation. A conversation which will help women to acknowledge one another as equals, a conversation which recognized that we need each other’s help and assistance to become better listeners to overcome the challenges. During our workshop, they have remembered that conversation is the natural way humans think together and they took conversation as an opportunity to meet together as peers, not as roles.
In Africa, women are known to produce up to 80% of the food. Yet, when it comes to agricultural inputs and services, the share going to women is meagre: they receive only 7% of agricultural extension services, less than 10% of the credit offered to small-scale farmers, and own only 1% of the land.[1] In this context, women are often found concentrated in subsistence agriculture and unpaid farm work, and excluded from more lucrative agricultural opportunities such as cash crop production.
During our workshop, more than 200 women came to the program. It’s not true that rural women are incapable of thinking, but it is lack of an opportunity for them to talk. During our conversation, where each woman was involved in thinking and doing. They have numbered a long list of their struggles, their needs and they priorities. In all their discussions, they have concluded to empower women as major concern which will bring change. Through empowerment program, they want to start a micro-credit project to give small loans to women; they want to improve maternal health, they want to reinforce the gardens project which they are doing (Women are producing vegetables for their families and some part to sell to support children education. This project will improve the livelihood for women).
As a church, we should empower women farmers improves food security for all. As women comprise on average 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries and produce the bulk of the world’s food crops. While the vast majority of small scale producers experience difficulties accessing resources, socio-cultural norms particularly curtail women producer’s access to productive resources including education, land, technologies, information, financial services, and markets. Their presence in decision-making bodies, especially in leadership positions, also remains weak, and their needs as farmers are seldom accounted for in policy and resource allocation. As a result, women farmers do not produce to their full capacity. If women farmers had access to the same opportunities and resources as men farmers, their productivity would rise significantly and the food security of millions of people would be improved. One challenge that remains is to improve women’s participation in cooperatives. By ensuring women farmers to have adequate access to financial resources is a key tenet of successful rural development strategies.
As a church and as a missionary; I think, our reflection on ministry with the poor should be a practical framework where the beneficiaries are participating in the empowerment process where everyone is involved to bring positive change. We believe that participation means taking part, as an individual and as a community, freely and fully, in decision-making at each step of the development process because development should be understood as a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved both the helpers and the helped. Our regard to ministry with the poor, the church should avoid doing things for people which they can do for themselves. The strategy is to empower them to bring change themselves. Participatory approach is one of the best way to build confidence to the people in need. 

Another project which they have listed is a women cooperative where women will work in small groups according to their vocation. For instance, those who are sowing will be in one group, those who are able to sell fish will be in another group.( Cooperatives increase women's income through job creation and financing of income generating projects and provide an opportunity for women to be leaders.)  Throughout our African continent and through cooperatives, millions of women have been able to change their lives - they have found through the cooperative enterprise a route towards self- empowerment and development that works for them.
Despite the physical needs which they have listed, women have also mentioned to develop their spiritual life.  The church should promote the cooperatives in ministry with the poor. Cooperatives are contributing to a change for the both as providers and recipients of services. Our goal as a church, is to empower more women with practical skills that will make their projects both successful and satisfying. The vision is working on empowering local communities where women will enhance their economic position and address the challenges surrounding them.

Women’s lack of access to finance, due to factors such as lack of collateral, complicated administrative procedures, unsuitable loan sizes or interest rates, is one of the major factors affecting – and limiting – the investment and productive capacity of women workers as well as their ability to finance other basic and strategic needs. In Cote d’Ivoire, for instance, only 3% of women have access to the formal financial sector, as opposed to approximately 44% of men. Many communities are responding to these constraints by setting up financial cooperatives composed of women, or developing the services of existing providers to cater specifically to women’s needs.
“Organizing is the key to empowerment. Organizing is the process by which people who are individually weak and vulnerable unite and create power together. When individuals who are among the poorest, least educated and most disenfranchised members of society come together they experience dramatic changes in their lives.” -- Renana Jhabvala

If you want to contribute to the project and donate any gift, please send your donation through the advance # 3021990 for Leadership Development Program in Cote d’Ivoire.  Thank  
Jesus challenged the disciples to "Go and make disciples..." (Matthew 28:19). John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, challenged those who were going to America to "Offer them Christ." .  Along with my family, we are offering Jesus Christ in Cote d’Ivoire.
 Jean Claude Masuka Maleka, Advance # 3021390

[1] ILO, Global Employment Trends for Women 2009, Geneva, 2009

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