Thursday, November 1, 2012

Livestock + Education = Empowerment

by Tim Wright

Though we strive for excellence, using approaches that are proven effective, I am sometimes surprised with unexpected impacts on the lives of marginalized women. Five months ago, we initiated the Family Health component of our 1000 Widows Initiative to complement the livestock component. This week, Lucia, our Coordinator, told me about the enthusiastic participation by our beneficiaries - single moms and widows with young children. 
Lucia, Sauti Moja's Family Health Coordinator, counsels single mothers on reproductive health.
  Information is power, and understanding family planning options is empowering to women.

They had minimal understanding about reproductive processes and health, but now know about and discuss male and female condoms, injections and implants for birth control, HIV and STD symptoms and prevention, and child health and nutrition. Women now seek personal counsel concerning family planning. 
The unanticipated result is the psycho-social transformation.  A widow told Lucia, “We are not the women that you met on the first day.  We were at risk of HIV and unwanted pregnancy.”  When I asked further about this, Lucia explained that the women are economically empowered with the food and income that they get from the livestock we provided. They no longer need to engage in sexual relations for survival; like every woman would wish for herself, intimacy is a choice, not driven by economic necessity. Reproductive health training and support enables women to protect themselves.

Further, beneficiaries of livestock and family health training testify that their social status is improved from being least in the community to feeling appreciated. First off, they gained respect and had a voice immediately upon receiving livestock – a pastoralist without livestock is a ‘nobody’!  They gained further respect by the economic change from being a community dependent to becoming a benefactor of others by providing milk and a donkey to carry loads.  They've also gained self- and community respect by being able to choose whether or not to engage in intimate relations, an outcome we had not foreseen. Further, these women have become a prime source of information about reproductive health and child care for other women.  A widow said, “We are no longer least in the community. After every meeting, others come to ask me what I learned. They ask if they could come, too.” 

For me, it is humbling and rewarding to be part of economic, sexual, psychological, and social empowerment of women.  I trust that our donors will find satisfaction in having made a great difference in the lives of marginalized women and their children.

For additional information on the Livestock for Sustainable Livelihoods program please go to

No comments: