Gender equality and empowerment: Micro-enterprises encourage major involvement


Welcome to the second post of the blog series! This post highlights the inequalities of the coffee value chains in Ethiopia and the work that the University of Huddersfield is doing to create a brighter future for women through female-led micro enterprises.

If you would like to read about the work of RSPB and Nature Kenya that was featured in our first blog post, please click here.

Non-Timber Forest Product micro-enterprises for competitive forests and livelihoods in Ethiopia

Wokinesh Danil beams broadly, showing off the certificate, presented to her by the woreda (district) Officer for Women and Children, that states the micro-enterprise she is a member of. The micro-enterprise was established in Gide Bench woreda in southwest Ethiopia is one of eleven set up to develop more diverse livelihood incomes from a wide variety of Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) value chains, with an emphasis on benefiting women.

Initiated with the support of the Darwin Initiative, Wokinesh’s micro-enterprise is involved in the sustainable harvesting and processing of forest spices such as timiz (long pepper) and kororemia (Ethiopian cardamom) for the local, national and potentially international markets.

Selling black peppercorns in the local market, Bench Sheko Zone, SNNRPS, Ethiopia

Black peppercorns being sold in the local market, Credit – Indrias Kassaye

Previous work in the southwest through an earlier Darwin project 19-025 focused on the protection of these forests and the wild coffee gene pool found within them. Through the work achieved by the previous project it was recognised that the beneficiaries of the coffee value chains were predominantly men. In order to maintain reduced rates of deforestation and to promote sustainable livelihoods through cooperatives and forest groups it was clear that a broader range of forest products that benefited both men and women was needed. This is being addressed by focusing on developing value chains which enable economically excluded local women to create micro-enterprises targeting new local, national and international markets.

Ethiopia is a highly patriarchal society and previous projects have struggled to actively involve women. The traditional role of women, coupled with their family and household responsibilities, have acted as a barrier against their active participation. Changing cultural norms takes time and these issues are still impacting on levels of project participation and the empowerment of women. To tackle these challenges, the project has encouraged increased involvement from women by actively working with the staff team on the ground to ensure that women are the central focus of the project, and through engagement with the Women and Children’s Office (WCO) at the woreda level. In addition to the women-only micro-enterprises trading in honey (traditionally seen as a man’s crop), ten other mixed gender micro-enterprises have been established in which a minimum of 51% of the membership is female. By contrast, existing coffee co-ops have an average female participation rate of only 18%.

Through this project the WCO has actively participated in project consultation and training sessions. The active engagement of the WCO office has reassured women members, and has promoted the idea that women should be able to express their opinion ‘without fear or hesitation’.

Farmer Tirunesh Shenka Aity is the female chair of the Abyi Angisken honey micro-enterprise which was established in 2019. Tirunesh participated in a ‘training for trainers’ course led by Apinec Agro Industries, a private sector project partner, on bee keeping and the use of transitional bee hives. These transitional hives are made from locally available materials (wood, mud and straw), and can be easily built and due to their location (on the forest fringe) are more accessible for women.

1 Tirunesh orverseeing a tansitional bee hive making session

Tirunesh overseeing a transitional bee hive making session, Credit – Hailemariam Nadew

Tirunesh was selected by Apinec as ‘best trainee’ for her participation in the classroom and practical engagement in making transitional hives with other male participants Returning from the training, she has recruited and trained the other female micro-enterprise members and collected 8,000 birr that will enable her to buy the best quality honey next season.

The use of participatory methods to identify which NTFPs should be developed and which private sector partners should be involved in training has helped to ensure that women’s voices are heard and that their experiences are taken into account. As well as having a positive impact on women’s lives and providing leadership opportunities for women such as Tirunesh and Wokinesh, work to date has also succeeded in changing gender-based assumptions of project staff. One of the project staff members stated that “we have learnt that when we give the chance for women to participate in activities they can do better than men members… so we have learnt from this project to give the chance to [women to] participate for other projects too”.

More information about project 25-013 led by the University of Huddersfield working in Ethiopia can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Gender equality and empowerment’ is available here.

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