Empowering women in North Darfur
In this update, we look at how a ground-breaking project in Sudan is helping women become financially independent and giving them a greater role in the communit
As part of the Wadi El Ku Catchment Management project, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with non-governmental organization Practical Action, has implemented village saving and loan association (VSLA) groups in El Fasher, Kelamindo, Kutum, Alwaha and Ramallah in Sudan’s North Darfur State. The main objective of these groups is to help pastoralists and farmers benefit from natural resources management activities in the Wadi El Ku catchment area.
Through a system of savings and loans, VSLA groups allow women and men to manage household cash flow, build a capital base and work collaboratively on income generating projects.
More particularly, the VSLA groups within the Wadi El Ku project opened economic opportunities for women, who shoulder the responsibility of providing for their families in Darfur. During 2021 and 2022, 73 per cent of women members of the VSLA groups benefited from the loan they managed in their loan boxes.
As part of the project in North Darfur, women have seen improvements in their daily lives. Having access to loans allowed them to start their own small businesses, such as shop, sell agricultural products in larger markets and receive raw materials to create artisanal products.
In North Darfur State, women in pastoralists settlements have intentionally lived in closed communities and with close to no contact with neighbouring groups, especially farming communities. Traditionally, they create ornaments with materials such as leather, shells, mirrors and other decorative items. These are used on special occasions, including weddings, or to decorate the walls of common areas in villages.
In Ramallah, the project team initiated a handicrafts training with 45 women. The organization provided the community with raw materials and helped elder women to train younger community members.
The project has taught women how to start and manage a small business while bringing women from pastoralist and farmer communities together, breaking down communications barriers.
The training, which lasted 15 days, included a payment of 60,000 Sudanese pounds (US$100) to motivate the members of the community to participate. Once the training was over, the women decided to gather and discuss how to use this money. They concluded they would each give 5,000 Sudanese pounds (US$8) to rebuild a local school.
As women, they felt the responsibility to bring some change with the income they earned. This was the first example of income sharing and monetary cooperation within the community. The rest of the money went to buy goats, chickens, blankets and other household items.
It’s still unknown if the handicraft production could become a viable business. But participants say the project brought them a sense of purpose and elevated their roles in the community. Moreover, it increased social cohesion between two groups that were rarely exposed to each other’s presence and between which there is often rivalry for natural resources. This helped to create peace and stability in the area.
“The team brought all the raw materials and encouraged handicrafts in a creative way,” said Hamraa Moussa, a 27-year-old mother of five from Ramallah Damra, Um Saiala. “Before, old people were the only ones doing handicrafts and the only activities of young people were to bring water, cook and clean the house. As women, we had nothing to do.”
Experts say that economic empowerment positively affects the dynamics within the household and enhances women’s status in the community by promoting their participation in events and public spaces, including in natural resource governance discussions.
Experiences from other projects in the region and in Sudan, for example, showed that when women are involved in natural resource governance mechanisms, plans and policies more accurately address the range of peacebuilding and environmental challenges communities face. The new role women acquire in pastoralist communities also allows them to travel to other states and share their knowledge and skills with other groups, including farmers.
“Last year, the project team arranged for a group of women to travel to North Kordofan. I was able to join the group, and share my experience with communities over there,” said Hamraa Moussa.
UNEP, in collaboration with the Sudan state government in North Darfur and Practical Action, is finalizing the implementation of the second phase of the Wadi El Ku Catchment Management project, which began in 2018. This project aims to expand and promote scientific and technical information for improved integrated water resources management, inclusive natural resource management and early warning systems.
The project saw the construction of several weirs, irrigation channels, community forests, shelter belts and other interventions that have already improved the livelihood of 100,000 people while restoring natural resources.
The project is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNEP in partnership with the Government of Sudan and the non-governmental organization Practical Action.
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