Zimbabwe: Single Women - Empowered to Support Themselves
07 July 2015

Mateo Sanchez Women Skills Development Centre (Tendai Matoni/Jesuit Refugee Service)
“We then held meetings with the women to find out what they wanted to do. They came up with the idea of the piggery project, chicken rearing, goat rearing and market gardening.”

Tongogara, 30 June 2015 – Within any population, even amongst refugees and asylum seekers, women – particularly single women, more so single mothers – are the most vulnerable. These women are more vulnerable to gender based violence, financial and sexual exploitation as well as physical and sexual abuse . In the advancement and protection of the basic human rights of refugees, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Zimbabwe could not ignore the plight of these and other women and so a safe environment that protects them from these abuses, where they could create and sustain livelihoods that give them financial independence, needed to be established.   

A group of women approached JRS in Zimbabwe, in 2013, asking for jobs as most were being stigmatised - being single mothers, widows and single women they are regarded as prostitutes - because they did not have husbands.

Tendai Makoni, JRS, Zimbabwe Country Co-ordinator, says that this was a challenge that needed to be dealt with, something needed to be done: “So we approached a donor for the construction of a Women’s Centre as well as a few activities as a pilot project.”

Rather than impose a solution on these ladies, the process of setting up livelihood projects that benefit these women was consultative. Makoni goes on to say: “We then held meetings with the women to find out what they wanted to do. They came up with the idea of the piggery project, chicken rearing, goat rearing and market gardening.”

This is how the Mateo Sanchez Women Skills Development Centre Project came into being. The project assists the women in giving them livelihood skills that would enable them to be self-sufficient and not dependent on men or communities that were in fact abusive. 

In initiating the project Makoni says: “We have since started a piggery project which 10 women participate in. Our aim is to have a “drop-down” system so that when new piglets are born, and they are weaned, they are passed on to another group of women so that it produces for that group as well.” This model in turn ensures that empowerment is at scale and self-sustaining, so that more women can be absorbed into the project, creating livelihoods for themselves and their dependents, whilst creating opportunities for other women. The project itself is modelled in such a way that it grows to scale through the efforts of the participants themselves. 

Makoni has positive feedback to share at this early phase of the project. “There has been positive feedback, in that the 10 women that we started with have been able to slaughter one of the pigs that they started with, sold the meat, and was able to purchase another pregnant sow from the proceeds. Also from the piglets born, there is another group of women that we have identified to receive some of the piglets so that they can start their breeding initiatives as well. The only challenge here is that they are unable to build their own piggery so they have to share the existing one whilst we look for funding to build a bigger pigsty.” she says.

So far we have 10 women that have benefited, but there are 50 women in the whole project. With the self-sufficiency and the project designed to grow through the efforts of the participants therein, beneficiating more women through this “drop-down” model, the rights and livelihoods of these women is guaranteed. 

True empowerment should be based on a partnership between the benefactor – JRS – and the beneficiary – single mothers, single women and widows. Soon these women will be financially independent, sustaining themselves and their dependents through meaningful economic activities. More importantly, because of the consultative approach JRS adopted from the outset, the buy-in of the women who are the participants and beneficiaries of the project ensures its continued success. 

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Gushwell F. Brooks
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