Saturday, 14 February 2009

Women entrepreneurs in Eritrea contribute to rural household income

Women have always played an important role in Eritrean society. During the struggle for independence, they helped transform Eritrean society and today they contribute substantially to the agriculture sector and to the income of their households.

Like all women around the world and especially those in developing countries, the women in the Gash Barka region of Eritrea start their daily activities bright and early. They not only take care of the household chores, but are also very involved in agricultural activities.

"We raise livestock and we work on the farm. Recently the National Eritrean Women's Association and the IFAD-funded Gash Barka Livestock and Agricultural Development Project organized a series of workshops where we learned to weave mats and fans using palm leaves", says Brri Weldemariam, member of the women's association.

Every morning, Brri Weldemariam and Tebelsm Estfons take their livestock for grazing for about an hour in the semi-arid highlands of Gash Barka. After bringing back the livestock from pasture, they equip themselves with their yellow jerry cans and set out on another one-hour expedition, this time with their donkey, to fetch water from the village centre water pump.

Back home, after attending to the household chores and cooking a meal for the family, they get together with the other women of the community and put into practice their newly acquired skill – weaving fans, mats and baskets from palm leaves.

"We received training on how to work with palm leaves", explains Weldemariam proudly. "Recently we have started using dye to make more attractive and marketable objects."

"On a monthly basis we make approximately 50 fans, which we sell locally for 3 nakfa. We sell the mats for 30 nakfa and the baskets for 10 nakfa," says Estfons.

"Before we did not have any source of income and depended entirely on our husbands' income".

"Now that we are engaged in this income-generating activity we not only have an opportunity to socialize with other women but are also making money. This is allowing us to buy food for the family and also raw material such as dye for our new activity," says Weldemariam with a smile.

"Our dream is to open a shop on the main road, which gets a lot of traffic, to sell our hand-made products," say Weldemariam and Estfons.

"We just need a bit more training to take this newly acquired trade to the next level. This way we will be able to produce better quality products, which will allow us to sell in bigger markets such as Asmara."

Rural development projects around the world have demonstrated that investing in rural women is a secure way of enabling poor rural households to overcome poverty. Rural women are resourceful and keen to go the extra mile to learn new skills and engage in income-generating activities. And Eritrean women are no exception.

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