Happy International Women’s Day
Mar 8, 2016
Our Programme Director, Albha Bowe celebrates International Women’s Day by telling us about the remarkable women she recently met in Sierra Leone.
In November 2015 I visited MEWODA with a colleague from Feed the Minds. MEWODA was established by a group of women farmers in 1995 and since then has been working to support the rights of other women farmers in the Bombali District of Sierra Leone.
During that time we visited one of the villages where a new programme was about to start to meet with women in the community and hear about their day to day life.
All of the women were farmers, growing crops mainly to feed their families and, when there was any additional surplus available, sell at the local market. This allowed them to earn money occasionally that was modest in amount but vital for the survival of households living in extreme poverty.
Of all of the women present, only one woman from that village could read and write. These women had devised numerous strategies to navigate a daily life full of numbers and letters that they don’t understand. They spoke about using symbols instead of names for the contacts in their basic Nokia phones so they would know who was calling or texting them; they explained how they can identify bags of seeds or grain from different regions or countries by the colour or pictures on the bags (an important differentiation as the seeds and grain vary in quality as well as price depending on where they are from); and how they have learned to mentally retain information about their costs and expenditure so that they can negotiate prices and sell goods at the market, this can be for as many as twelve different types of vegetables or crops.
Two things stuck me about that day. The first was the remarkable resilience of women. I think that sometimes in development charities we have a tendency to over-complicate things when really what we need to do is step out of the way. The women I met have to deal with the double challenges of extreme poverty and low levels of literacy every day yet do so with incredible skill and creativity. The woman knew exactly how they wanted to improve their lives and how they would go about doing that. They just needed to be supported to get on with it.
The second was the very real and long term effects of conflict: years of conflict in Sierra Leone has meant that generations of children have received little or no education and that continues to affect their day-to-day lives as adults. Less than 40% of the adult female population in Sierra Leone are literate due to the disruption caused by war.
This International Women’s Day, all of us at Feed the Minds are thinking of and standing in solidarity with the brave, strong and resilient women who are changing the communities they live in, and in turn changing the world for all of us.