What drives women’s commitment to initiatives, if not income?
By Nellie Nyang’wa
In the past few years I have worked quite closely with home-based care and support groups in the context of Oxfam’s HIV and AIDS programming. I have also met with several women’s forums, where women participate in income-generating initiatives and train each other in various skills. I have often wondered about the economic sense of such initiatives. There are cases where women will put all the income generated from projects into a joint account and use it for further group activities, while others will share small amounts, such as a dollar each, after months of hard work. Clearly, it does not make much economic sense for the individual then, so what is the impetus?
On a recent trip to Zimbabwe, I visited St Tereza Hospital, which supports home-based care and support groups, and met with groups of women who are involved in baking, handcraft and vegetable garden projects. These women were either HIV-positive themselves or living with someone who is positive. Again, I could not see the financial benefit for the individual women working in these initiatives. Attendance at group meetings is high and the women walk long distances to reach the meeting places. So what drives their commitment to these projects, if not income?
Talking to a few of the women, I found their stories to be very similar. “This is the place where I find people who are ready to listen to my story, and keep me happy despite what I am going through” was the sentiment.
It got me thinking about the real value of such initiatives: have we been using the wrong yardstick to measure value when we walk into these groups with our calculators, ready to work out the profit margin, having taken into account the man hours put into the initiative. Shouldn’t “emotional health” be the development agenda?
I link this with the many comments I hear from foreigners who visit poor communities for the first time and wonder why amid such poverty and suffering people still manage to smile and be happy. AIDS is clearly putting a strain on communities and women are bearing the largest burden of this, not only resource- and labour-wise, but emotionally too. Shouldn’t emotional health then be at the centre of the measure we use when assessing the success of such initiatives?
Nellie Nyang’wa is Regional Programmes & Policy Manager for Oxfam GB in Southern Africa