Women’s Empowerment and Leadership in Rural Senegal - Activity Highlight

Speeches Shim

Friday, March 26, 2021

USAID 60th anniversary

If rural women are economically empowered, they will be better able to consolidate their political leadership through access to decision-making bodies and key positions.

USAID has been a key development champion in Senegal since 1961. Partnerships with citizens, communities, organizations, and the government at both the local and national levels have made a significant impact on the everyday lives of the Senegalese people. Working with local communities and organizations is key to the success in meeting and sustaining development goals in the long-term. 

Achieving gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment has been a shared development goal in the partnership between USAID and Senegal. In rural Senegal this can be challenging, especially in the conservative regions of Diourbel and Thies. The traditions and religious influences of two prominent Islamic brotherhoods, the Muridiya and the Tidianiya, have a significant impact in these regions and empowering women here requires a focus on both practical and strategic needs. Central to women’s strategic needs are economic autonomy and political empowerment; a woman who contributes to her household and community economically is more likely to be heard and to have influence with local decision-making bodies.

A beneficiary of Suxali Jigeen's micro-finance program managing her produce stand.
A beneficiary of Suxali Jigeen's micro-finance program managing her produce stand.
ARLS, USAID

 

In celebration of USAID’s 60 year relationship with Senegal, USAID/Senegal recognizes its strong history and partnership with the Association Rurale de Lutte Contre le SIDA (ARLS), a women’s group established in the Thies and Diourbel regions. USAID and ARLS have been associated directly or indirectly for over 10 years (since 2010). This partnership has been strengthened by the current Women’s Economic Empowerment and Political Leadership Program at the Community Level, called USAID’s Suxali Jigeen activity, a cooperative agreement with ARLS which began in 2017 and is slated to run through 2021. Suxali Jigeen means “empowering women” in Wolof, one of the local languages of Senegal. Hallmarks of this collaboration have been the establishment of a savings and credit program, the signing of collaboration agreements between the women’s group and local government, and a community radio station which gives voice to women’s perspectives and concerns.  

Through these long-term efforts, many barriers to social, cultural and religious equality among rural women have been reduced and women’s influence with  decision-making bodies has increased. Income generation, in particular, and the economic freedom it affords address an underlying barrier to women’s empowerment. USAID’s support has increased access to loan funds, and enabled women to begin successful and structured income generation activities in merchandising by selling produce, ornamental plants, and handicrafts for example. 

Suxali Jigeen provided computers with microfinance software installed and trained over 30 staff on management practices to ensure effective management, internal auditing and reporting of the microfinance program. Small groups (~10 members) of women were also trained in financial management, systems and reporting. And an initial credit line of $100,000 (50 million CFA) was opened that provided loans to nearly 400 women, offering an average loan amount of approximately $200 (100,000 CFA), and employing a revolving credit mechanism.  The loan program has been a resounding success with a 95 percent repayment rate and 83 percent of beneficiaries successfully yielding profits. Women reinvested their gains in children’s school fees, health (through insurance programs), household equipment and food. 

To increase the number of potential beneficiaries, Suxali Jigeen developed mobile and decentralized cash points to reach women in remote areas of Keur Samba Kane and Nguémé. The mobile cash points were organized in rural places with high concentrations of people, such as weekly markets. Over 70 cash points were organized which enabled beneficiaries to conveniently open accounts or make other banking transactions (credit, refund or savings). 

Beneficiaries of Suxali Jigeen's family livestock farm program with their sheep.
Beneficiaries of Suxali Jigeen's family livestock farm program with their sheep.
ARLS, USAID

A baseline study was conducted to better understand the conditions that support the emergence of rural women-led small enterprises and to assess the challenges; it focused on gender barriers in market gardening, small trade and raising livestock. The study revealed that despite recent progress achieved in women’s access to land, there are still zones where the land on which women grow vegetables belongs to their husbands who often control the income generated from the land’s use.  In small trade, women are active in selling seasonal fruits such as mangos, watermelon, and cashews along the main roads; however, stiff competition from imports can limit this opportunity. 

The investments required to raise animals in an agricultural setting are high and, as a result, very few women are active in this sector. To address this gender gap, Suxali Jigeen set a target of establishing 35 family livestock farms. By the end of 2019, 86 family farms were established which included 46 sheep farms, 22 poultry farms, and 18 cow farms.  On average, after one year of raising livestock, women were able to repay loans and greatly improve their family’s financial situations.     

Since the beginning of USAID’s partnership with ARLS twelve agreements with local governments have been brokered to empower women politically. These agreements resulted in the signing of protocols that encourage local governments to contribute complementary resources toward improving women’s livelihoods in rural areas. These agreements also facilitate women’s access to decision-making bodies in their communities. All protocols were signed in areas where women were involved in income generating merchandising activities or family livestock rearing. Advocacy for women’s leadership in the political arena is a critical component in empowering women and working toward gender equality. 

Radio Gindiku FM is a radio station established in 2006 run entirely by women, and currently supported by USAID’s Suxali Jigeen activity. The station broadcasts bi-weekly messages in local languages Wolof, Serere, and Fulani on topics of interest to women’s empowerment and political leadership, such as education and land management. In particular, the radio programs  provide information on local policies and regulations, provide a communication platform between local officials and the community, and advocate for good governance practices.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Radio Gindiku FM adjusted its programming to include the broadcasting of health messages developed by the Government of Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. The bi-weekly shows and radio spots, which reach an estimated 150,000 people in the Thies and Diourbel regions, call for the adoption of healthy behavior practices to combat the spread of the disease. The swift action and leadership taken by the women involved in the Suxali Jigeen activity to confront the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the benefit of empowering women and advocating for gender equality. 

Women broadcasters of the Radio Gindiku FM radio station attend an information session on healthy behavior practices and COVID-19 prevention.
Women broadcasters of the Radio Gindiku FM radio station attend an information session on healthy behavior practices and COVID-19 prevention.
ARLS, USAID

Establishing long-standing relationships through financial and technical support of women’s empowerment and leadership positively affects the quality of life of women and their families. Women’s financial independence translates to decision-making power  that leads to educational opportunities for their children, as well as better health care and nutrition for the entire family. On this 60th anniversary USAID recognizes the progress attained through historical relationships and shared values with the Senegalese people.

For more information:

ARLS President: Mme Kaire at arlskaire@gmail.com

USAID/Senegal: Seynabou Diallo at sediallo@usaid.gov 

Last updated: May 07, 2021

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