Jenneh Musa is an elderly women engaged in petty trading for her survival. She lives in the Lalehun community, one of the biggest villages in the Jawei Chiefdom Eastern Province Kailahun District. Prior to the Nurturing Opportunity for Women (NOW) Program Jenneh and other Lalehun women lived a reserved life, they never joined any group in the community and did not frequently attend meetings because they were not confident to speak in public. The village leadership did not adequately represent women; markedly more men were in power than women. Many people held traditional views of women as gossipers and people only meant for child bearing. Women in Lalehun did not work together for community development. Despite the majority opinion of women as non-leaders, Jenneh and other women started to look for small ways to change the norm.
Jenneh and her colleagues in the NOW program learned many skills related to communication and financial planning that they decided to implement at home and in the community. The group learned the importance of having good communication with each other, how to practice good communication with their family and community, and how to share what they have learned about financial planning with others. Equipped with new tools, the NOW women decided to change the negative concept about women in Lalehun and formed a community development group, to assist each other in their own farms by clearing, weeding, and planting. The women had a goal of building their image and contributing to community development at the same rate as their male counterparts.
In addition to group farming activities, the NOW women’s group shared lessons from the NOW program with other women in the community and cleaned up community areas to prevent sickness. These actions showed strong unity among them as women. Jenneh said, “we wanted to send a strong message to our male counterparts that we can do better than them.” Jenneh and the NOW working group focused on widespread communication to other women in the community to attend community meetings. The women organized social club work, where they contributed monthly dues, and met regularly to discuss how to support others in the group. They organized a community dance to fundraise capital for a member’s business idea. The women also formed group savings which is generating a huge income for them which they use to help with domestic expenses. The success of these activities is building respect from their families and community.
At first, it was very difficult for women to work together in a group as there were many disagreements. Additionally, recognition and respect in the community was difficult to earn. The women realized it takes time to build up a damaged image, and focused on their community work and support of women in the group to demonstrate their validity. Now, the leaders in Lalehun recognize this group and involve them in any community meetings and work. Jenneh said, “There is greater understanding among us now.”
The members of the women’s group are now viewed as role models due to their clean and organized homes, financial savings, confidence in attending community meetings, ability to give their opinions, and positive interactions with community people. Jenneh and the other NOW women are now serving as advisers, counselors, and women’s leaders in the community and have demonstrated to themselves and the community the power of female leadership.