Survivors of Gender-based Violence Start Businesses and Regain their Independence in Benin

Speeches Shim

Monday, March 8, 2021
Women affected by violence are provided with supplies to start up their own food businesses, in hopes of supporting their financial independence.
Photo: Chérita Zangan

Justine (not her real name) lives near Porto-Novo, Benin’s capital. On a regular day, she is responsible for household chores and cares for her son, who has a learning disability. Without an income source of her own, she relied on her husband, who controlled the family’s finances and had acted violently towards her. 

Gender-based violence is a human rights violation, a public health challenge, and a significant barrier to girls’ and women’s civic, social, and economic participation in Benin. According to Benin’s Demographic and Health Survey, more than a quarter of adolescent girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported experiencing physical violence in their lifetimes. This violence can lead to devastating consequences for survivors, from the negative effect on physical and mental health to the impact of shame and stigma on their social lives.

The Government of Benin offers medical care and psychosocial assistance to those affected by gender-based violence. But a full recovery for survivors requires their full participation in society, both socially and economically. Unfortunately, a lack of funding prevents Benin’s national relief system from supporting women with social reintegration and finding gainful employmentleaving many women dependent on their husbands and putting them at increased risk of violence.

As such, the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Integrated Health Services Activity, led by Management Sciences for Health, is supporting Benin’s government to strengthen its services and helping women fulfill their economic potential. 

Justine is one of these women. After meeting with Justine and her husband, which is locally accepted as a necessary step before offering services, the activity provided Justine with counselling and training to start her own food retailing business. Since starting her business, Justine has reduced her family’s economic stress and life has become more stable.

The activity’s staff met up with Justine to learn more about her experience recovering from violence and gaining her financial independence.

How did you learn about the support available for economic reintegration? 

A social worker at the Centre de Promotion Sociale (CPS) community center of Agbokou, Ouémé, told me about the economic reintegration work of the activity.

How did the activity help you start your business?

First, I submitted an application where I detailed everything that I would need to develop a business [selling corn porridge]. The auntie [a nickname given to the social worker] of the CPS told me that the activity could provide a portion of the funds needed to start my business. However, to my surprise, I received everything that I asked for when I submitted my application [consisting of a bag of corn, a brick of condensed milk, and six kilograms of peanuts].

In addition to the material support, I also received helpful advice from a member of the activity, on how to save money and how to set aside a percentage of my benefits for the health of my family. She showed me how to make my business profitable and how to renew my supplies. Her advice really helped me, and from time to time, the auntie of the CPS comes to see me and gives me advice on business strategy tips. It is thanks to her that I was able to start the profitable activity of selling corn porridge.

How has this support helped you overcome the challenges you were facing?

Not only can my children and I eat without having to wait for my husband to give me money, now I’m able to support myself independently. Two months after I started my business, I was able to pay back a debt of 60,000 CFA (around $110 USD), which had been causing me a lot of trouble and stress. 

Thanks to the profits that I have made, I was also finally able to bring my son, who was suffering from a bad cough, to the Akron Pneumo-Phthisiology Hospital in Ouémé and pay for his pulmonary X-rays. I had been unable to bring him in for care before because his father had refused to pay, saying that it was useless to pay for medical services for a child with a mental handicap. 

Today, my son is no longer coughing and I’m proud that I was able to do that for him.  

Now that business is profitable and you have addressed some basic needs of your family, what are your hopes for the future?

My first hope is that I can continue to take care of my business. I also hope that the activity can continue to support me the way it does right now, so my business can be sustainable.

My other biggest wish is to have enough money to put my kids in school. With my new source of income, I think that I’ll be able to gradually make this happen.

Growing Businesses and Looking Forward

Besides Justine, the USAID Integrated Health Services Activity has already supported 73 survivors to launch their food processing businesses and provided in-person advice to help the women reach full financial autonomy.

Some of the women are developing new approaches to raise their revenues on their own. In Adjohoun, Ouémé, 13 survivors organized a weekly support group at the local CPS to meet with social workers and share their experiences. Now the group intends to create a formal organization to process more food products and expand their business.

Survivors of gender-based violence set up market stalls to sell their food products.
Survivors of gender-based violence set up market stalls to sell their food products.
Photo: Chérita Zangan

Last updated: April 20, 2022

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