Investing in women for community economic development

“We desire to undertake some economic venture but we have no funds to start any activity here”, lamented Sarah Asare, a 42-year-old resident of Ekorso, Ghana. Sarah is not alone in this situation. Many other women in her community find themselves in a similar dilemma.

Sarah Asare

Most women in mining communities are poor and rarely engage in activities where they can earn a living income. They see their opportunities as limited. Opportunities for farming have greatly declined as a result of shrinking farm lands. This is the result of illegal miners who have taken over most farm lands in search of gold, leaving in their trail, degraded land and polluted water.

“The mining has affected us in several ways and women especially bear the brunt of the mining in our community. The farm lands are all gone and there are no jobs for women”, said Janet Donkor, chairperson of the Ekorso Mma Kuo (women’s group).

Access to jobs for women in artisanal mines is limited as they are often only allowed to carry ore, an activity that is needed for just a few hours a day. This means the earnings of the women from the mines are low and not adequate for supporting their families. Their attempts to develop new economic activities is also curtailed, as they cannot access credit without any assets.

Janet Donkor

Taking care of the community

Solidaridad set out to change this situation in two communities participating in the Partnering for Better Livelihoods in the Gold Supply Chain Project. Started in 2014, the project sought to improve the livelihoods of artisanal and small-scale miners and communities they live in. Due to two mines located in their community, Akyem Ekorso and Akyem Mampong became beneficiaries of this project.

An assessment of the community indicated that access to credit and vocational training to help the women develop alternative livelihoods to complement incomes from mining sources was urgently needed. Solidaridad carried out various interventions to support the women in generating more income for their families and having a voice in decision-making in their communities.

Business education brings benefits

Margaret Gyawaa is a 62-year-old grandmother from Akyem Mampong and a participant in the women’s empowerment training provided by Solidaridad. She noted the training had a great impact on her life.

Margaret Gyawaa

“I have sold doughnuts in this community for many years, but after the training, I adopted a different approach to marketing my products. Now I sell my doughnuts door to door around the community as soon as I finish frying them because people like them hot. They are buying more doughnuts than I used to sell and I am seeing the difference in my income”, she said.

After addressing social challenges, the women were introduced to entrepreneurship and business skills training which led to the development of the Village Savings and Loans Scheme in Ekorso. The women saw the scheme as a secure way to save their money and an opportunity to start businesses with those savings.

“The benefits of the Village Savings and Loans Scheme were explained to us and the women just loved it. Most of us do not have bank accounts, so we saw this as an opportunity to own one. This savings is money we can fall back on”, Janet noted.

The Ekorso Mma Kuo group has also opened a bank account with the Atiwa Rural Bank. They meet weekly and each member contributes a minimum of Ghs5 cedis. At the end of the year in September 2017, each member received an amount of GHs357 Ghana cedis (an equivalent of $80) as a return on their investment.

Ekorso entrepreneurship on display

The women have also benefitted from learning how to make various types of soap and are excited about starting small-scale personal or homecare businesses in their community. With as little as GHs50 cedis, each of them can produce liquid soap or disinfectant to sell.

The women are hopeful and see a brighter future in themselves. Sarah expressed the women’s vision for the future.

“The women are hopeful that life in the community will improve. We have acquired new skills in soap making so our income will increase. We are committed to maintaining the women’s group after the project closes out because we are the beneficiaries of the interventions, so we have no reason to abandon it”, she said.

Creating a better life in mining communities

The Partnering for Better Livelihoods in the Gold Supply Chain Project was implemented in the eastern and Ashanti regions of Ghana from 2014 to March 2017. The overall objective of the project was to improve the livelihoods of artisanal and small-scale miners and the communities around them.

The project‘s specific objectives included supporting artisanal and small-scale mines to earn more income from improved management and production, as well as an increased volume of traceable gold available to buyers at the mine level. In regards to the community component, the project sought to increase awareness of and access to health care, while empowering women economically.

Learn more about Solidaridad programmes in West Africa