Addressing adverse consequences of traditional gender norms that are reinforced by customary practices is one of OVP’s priorities in Sierra Leone. Many women are unable to control and manage resources to aid their livelihood. Barriers to owning land, for instance is a serious challenge because farming is a primary source of income for the majority of villagers we work with. Similary, even though women do a majority of the work to look after the wellbeing of their family, seldom do they have the privilege of managing the household finances. These are the gender norms that shape the lives of many in Sierra Leonean women.
There are many factors that maintain the status quo on gender norms. Low literacy rates among women is a major contributing factor, and one issue that OVP is tackling head on! Low levels of literacy and numeracy means most women cannot readily access tools and resources to help them monitor and assess their financial wellbeing, as well as plan for their financial future. For instance, many women are not able to pay for their children’s education not only because of limited incomes, but because they cannot properly track and prepare for the payment.
“Life is really difficult for rural women. They lack skills and knowledge to overcome their everyday financial challenges, and what makes the condition worse is the lack of support from the men to improve their financial situation,”said Fatamata Dugba, a participant of our Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) program in Mamboma.
OVP has used this challenge as an opportunity to invest in a financial capabilities for women through the NOW program. OVP’s vision is to empower women and include men as allies in the process of creating positive change. The NOW program is a seven-month, picture-based financial literacy curriculum that includes topics such as budgeting, loans, expense tracking, saving plans for emergencies such as health issues. The curriculum goes further to include tools such as the agricultural calendar, which helps participants identify the ideal time to sell their agriculture products and maximize profit.
Our innovative and participatory approach to increase financial capability for rural women means women who may not even feel comfortable holding a pen, are able access helpful tools to manage their finances and plan for a better, more secure financial future.
Recognizing the intimate and complex nature of household finances, the NOW program has a Family Sessions feature, which promotes open dialogue and collaborative decision-making regarding household finances. Including men and husbands as equal partners int this process is a key factor for success. Family Sessions provides the opportunity for husbands and wives to come together and learn about effective communication techniques in a fun and interactive way.
The program helps husbands understand why supporting their wives and including them in household decision-making is beneficial for all their family members. Being on the front line, we have seen first-hand how this has helped many families build confident relationships, from major financial plans to small supportive efforts- like husbands doing the market shopping for the wife (something you rarely see out here!).
When people see these efforts, big and small, it has a cascading effect on the community. In communities like Mamboma, where NOW program finished last year, the conversation on gender equity is still ongoing.
Fatamata Dugba, like many other women in the NOW program, has thrived to become a successful woman in the eyes of her community. She worked hard to raise funds for het startup capital and is now a proud small business owner. Fatamata’s story is inspiring others too; as more see women’s potential for success given the opportunity and community support.
The success of the NOW program in Mamboma is just one example of how we can leverage participatory and inclusive financial capabilities program to promote gender equity and transform communities.
Written by the NOW Team: Foday Sesay, Adrienne Saidu, Josephine Seilu