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African women farmers struggle for fairness

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 1 Mar 2011 20:48 GMT
Author: kalongo-chitengi
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Kalongo Chitengi is the Country Director for Self Help Africa in Zambia. She manages a variety of programmes which support rural communities in agriculture and enterprise.The opinions expressed are her own. Thomson Reuters will host a International Women's Day live blog on March 8, 2011.

As International Women’s Day marks its centenary across the globe, many of the goals achieved and targets that are being celebrated are a world away for millions of women in rural Africa.

But it is fitting that several African countries, Zambia included, should be celebrating an event originally called ‘International Working Women’s Day’, as it is the mothers, sisters and daughters who continue to shoulder much of the burden of labour on this continent.

In Zambia, the theme for International Women’s Day last year was one of ‘Equal rights and equal opportunities for all’. This might appear to hark back to earlier times of the women’s movement, but for vast numbers of African women, the desire for equality is as real today as it was a generation or two ago. The reality rings true for both rural and urban women.

Rural African women, for whom farming and food production is a way of life, continue to struggle against enormous odds, even though international studies show that they do the bulk of the work.

By ‘work’ I am not  only talking about child rearing, caring for the sick and elderly, preparing the food, gathering the water and collecting the fire wood,  but also the daily manual labour that is required on every small farm in Africa – weeding, hoeing and digging, planting seed, harvesting crops, and tending to the care and wellbeing of livestock.

Zambian women, like many of their African counterparts do much of the heavy-lifting on small farms and contribute to developing their homesteads and yet in many cultures across the country, they can not own land or the property they work so hard for.

Women like Monia Mataka, a 66 year old widow who struggled to support herself on her land until a local seed producer co-operative our organisation was assisting in Zambia’s Western Province made seed available to Monia and many women like her in Mulyata village, where she had lived all of her life.

Monia used her savings to buy a few bags of improved groundnut seed, and has doubled her income.

Latest statistics show that women in some African countries can own as little as 1 percent of the land that they farm. We know also that they are likely to receive about 5 percent of the farm support advice that is available, and that they also experience significant restrictions in access to credit.

International donors have, however inadvertently, supported this situation because they have not put into place the kind of robust regulations and stipulations that would ensure that rural women are assured of equal access to the sizable international development budgets that are allocated to agricultural development.

Because of this, my organisation, Self Help Africa, has just launched ‘Change Her Life’, a campaign that urges funders and decision makers to ensure that a the women who do the bulk of the work in fields and homes in rural Africa get a fair share of the funding support that is available.

We will be presenting our completed petitions to the European Development Commissioner, the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to several European Overseas Development ministers, and are currently gathering signatures worldwide in support of that call.

As the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day approaches, it is a privilege to embark on such a good cause.

Women’s Day might primarily be an occasion of global celebration of the economic, political and social achievements of women through the generations, but it is important that the injustices, the obstacles, and the ‘glass ceilings’ that continue to exist for women today, are challenged, questioned and overturned.

As our campaign asks: ‘why not take a minute, it could change her life’?

Visit: www.changeherlife.org and add your name to the petition to get fairness for Africa’s rural women farmers.

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