Rural women’s groups in peacebuilding activities

Rural women’s groups in peacebuilding activities

25/06/2015

FAO’s integrated approach of reaching Ebola-hit farmers in Liberia’s Lofa County is bearing increased results not only in crop production, VSLA (village savings and loan associations) revitalization and education in Ebola prevention but the help is also uniting women in peacebuilding, palaver management as well as visiting sick members.

The women associations have transcended the normal call of duty to VSLA and business activities among members to also get involved in other “worthy communal undertakings.” They have expanded shared group engagements to include sympathizing with bereaved members and palaver resolution among aggrieved women. Mary Ndiminin, Chairlady of the 30-member strong Hands Together VSLA group in Foya City explained how their VSLA group’s work transcends money lending, petty business and agriculture.

Revitalized activities

“We are involved in other activities beyond Ebola, trade and farming work. We are like real household sisters. If a member’s direct family member dies, we sympathize with L$1,000 (US$12.00). We pay joint visits to the sick and are involved in peace mediation among palavering members.” She disclosed that two members who were not on speaking terms were refusing mediation efforts. “We simply told them that they were breaking the rules of the association and so would be expelled and would have to return all loans immediately. We were able to resolve the conflict and the two women are now speaking and are good friends again.”

FAO’s implementing partner, African Development Corps is also happy with the achievement. ADC’s Lofa County Programme Advisor, Koboi Larmine, said “although peacebuilding and group sympathy are not direct project outputs, the women groups usually have strong concerns for the well-being of members.” He said in one situation in Kolahun, women group members personally prevailed on community women reluctant to send their children to school due to Ebola fear to agree for their children to register. “The women tell us that the training they got has made them involved in peacebuilding in areas where we work such as Barkedu, Samodu, Foya, Kolahun.”

Initial funding was provided by FAO through its Technical Cooperation Project for immediate assistance to women’s livelihoods affected by the EVD. With funding from the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) and the African Solidarity Trust Fund (ASTF), FAO and partners are currently expanding support to nearly 200 VSLAs in lowland ecology agriculture in Bong, Lofa, Nimba Counties. Additionally, FAO is assisting 105 women’s groups for VSLA training in the same counties, but different communities. The SDC/ASTF funding will increase resilience and build on gains made under the first TCP intervention.

The idea of helping women work in groups on a multi-faceted project has yielded multiple results. It all begins with FAO’s provision of conditional cash transfer (to VSLA groups), facilitation of lowland rice production and Ebola awareness-raising as well as training, knowledge-sharing and technical field support. The cash transfer is conditional because it’s only made to VSLA groups that are ready to participate in both anti-Ebola awareness-raising and lowland farming

Mr. Jobson Momo, FAO’s Agriculture Consultant/Team Leader in Lofa County thinks this kind of approach builds resilience, introduces innovation and so serves as a motivating factor for women’s groups. “It can be sustainable because we encourage them to leave upland farming for a more fertile lowlands which can be cultivated under the sedentary farming system in which the farmers remain on one site for many farming cycles without moving elsewhere.” While working together other ideas and skills come around.