By Dr. Marie Paule NEMI (Download pdf version)
Challenges to the Economic Empowerment of Mboy Women in the East Region of Cameroon and Implications for Community Development and Peace
Lack of economic empowerment and the resultant poverty situation is one of the most common factors that promote or amplify conflicts, including armed conflicts. More clearly, it is a factor that hinders community development and peace. Women’s empowerment has been mentioned several times as an essential element to reduce poverty levels and maintain social harmony. The term empowerment has many meanings. But the one chosen for this policy brief is that of IFAD (2003) which states that: “working for gender equality and women’s empowerment means enabling women to express their potential, as producers, resource managers and service providers, for the benefit of their households and communities…” Women are seen not as vulnerable recipients of aid but as powerful allies in the process of social and economic change. Initiatives are designed with specific measures to empower women, enabling them to catch up and acquire the means and capacity to participate in the socio-economic development of their individual and collective wellbeing.
Power is important in empowerment. Power can be defined as control over human, social, material or intellectual resources (Oxfam GB, 2005). The aspect of power developed here is “power to” which is translated to “do something.” It is power that is creative and enables the essential individual elements of empowerment (Fiona Flintan, 2008). Taking the initiative to empower individuals to get things done can be less resentful or conflictual. Collectively, people feel more useful or empowered in an organized and united framework for a common purpose or understanding, aiming for collective goals.
Groups or associations can empower their members through solidarity and support. In many cases, women may face greater difficulties than men in setting up a local economic activity. Women are more likely to be less familiar with modern markets and have no power to influence them. They may be hampered by social norms, lack of mobility, and lack of access to information on new technologies and market changes. They rarely receive training in the management of modern small businesses or assistance in dealing with intermediaries or transporters who exploit them (Nduma et al. 2000; Flintan 2007b).
Context and importance of the problem
Mboy is a village in the Boumba and Ngoko Division of the East region of Cameroon. It is located 53 km from the chief town of the Division, Yokadouma, and 3 km from the border with the Central African Republic. It is populated by approximately 3,000 inhabitants, including indigenous Bantu, Baka pygmies and Central African refugees. In addition, the majority of men in the village are more inclined to cash crops (cocoa and coffee), poaching,
mining and logging. Very few men accompany their wives in food crop farming which provides for household feeding. This agricultural activity gives women a central role in development. As such, their empowerment is an indispensable factor for peace and community development. In rural Cameroon, particularly in the village of Mboy, few women are financially independent. One of the indicators of women’s empowerment is their ability to access finance and manage their income.
Moreover, in Moby, single mothers, women with disabilities, refugee women, indigenous women and pygmy women are at greater risk of social isolation. This makes them more vulnerable to poverty. The women of Mboy face certain realities. First, access to information is a challenge which limits their ability to improve on the production of crops. During harvest, a large part of the produce is used for consumption and the rest is sold. The income obtained from the sale of these agricultural products remain largely insufficient to empower the women as most of them have to support their husbands in running the family. They also face psychosocial and cultural barriers that prevent them from making use of the available resources. Secondly, very few financial institutions grant credit to these women because most women do not meet the selection criteria.
During the planting season, the women of Mboy work in groups and most of these women are not financially independent. The author of this policy brief approached one of these groups of women to better understand the realities they face. Their working method is quite simple. The cultivation and harvesting is done in turns according to a well-defined order. The objective is to have large fields for abundant harvests. However, the marketing of their products is done individually. Because of illiteracy, most of these women are unable to sell their products. They have never been trained in the management and marketing of products. On these premises, these women are unable to manage the sequential supply of their products at the local market. Given that marketing is done individually, they each sell their products at low prices to retailers locally called bayam-sellam. These retailers sometimes take advantage of their lack of information on market prices to impose their own prices on the women.
Indeed, it is rare for a microenterprise, especially one created by women, to grow beyond a small business scale and very few small businesses become medium or large enterprises. Their lack of mobility, coupled with their inability to have their own functional premises is often translated into a home-based activity preventing them from seeking new markets and gaining wider visibility, including information on better economic opportunities and business support. Moreover, these women are poorly endowed; they do not own most of the land on which they cultivate, and therefore cannot provide the necessary collateral required to access bank loans.
Conclusion and Policy Recommendation
As seen in this policy brief, lack of women’s financial empowerment and autonomy in Mboy certainly works against their individual and collective efforts to their own development in peace. Empowerment is a bottom-up process. Development agencies cannot pretend to empower women but rather women must empower themselves. The design of logical policies and programs for women’s empowerment requires special attention (Oxaal, 1997). As such, appropriate external support and intervention should stimulate and support the process of
empowerment through an enabling or facilitating role rather than trying to empower women themselves.
In her address to the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women held in March 2021, the Cameroonian Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family noted that the implementation of women’s economic empowerment policies and programs should be given greater considerations. Development Programmes can support individual women’s empowerment by encouraging women’s participation, skills development, decision-making capacity, and control over resources. The empowerment of Mboy women in political and economic decision making at all levels can be promoted by improving their decision-making ability, supporting income-generating activities, and providing skills and education to the women.
It is important to conduct a comprehensive analysis that is context-specific before supporting an income-generating activity. This should include, but not limited to: current product and purchasing systems, markets, actors, constraints and opportunities. Exposure to new ideas, and policy and practice innovations, can open up income-generating alternatives. Learning tours and field trips can help the women understand a situation beyond their own community and learn from the experience of others.
The development of the world inevitably involves women with the support of men. However, hindrances to their financial independence can jeopardize this development and the well-being of societies. This is the case of women in the village of Mboy. These women do not yet understand the benefits of financial autonomy and, in turn, cannot bring their husbands to support them. Fortunately, solutions exist, including education, awareness and support to rural women. These mechanisms are also used in the socio economic empowerment of men. Women can be assisted by external actors to develop pathways that allow them to access resources and realize their needs. The recommendations are summarized as follows:
1. Agencies such as UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, etc. should increase their visits to the area and develop empowerment strategies that are holistic and context specific, taking into account the women’s practical challenges;
2. . NGOs and associations whose objective is to educate young girls should find the best strategy to create awareness among parents;
3. Organizations such as UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNDP, etc. should train women to form mutually beneficial groups to cater for their own peace and development concerns;
4. Decentralized financial institutions not far from this locality should put in place policies that allow them to offer microcredit to women without too many requirements.
FIDA (2003a) Republic of Chad, Interim Evaluation of the Ouadis Kanem Agricultural Development Project. Rome: FIDA.
Fiona F., (2008), étude sur la bonne pratique : l’autonomisation des femmes dans les sociétés pastorales, Septembre, Addis Abeba
Flintan, F. (2007b) “Sharing of Past Experiences” in A. Ridgewell and F. Flintan, Gender and Pastoralism: Volume II: Income Generation Development, Savings and Credit in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa: SOS Sahel. Internet: http://www.sahel.org.uk/publications.html
Nduma, I. Kristjanson, P. and McPeak, J. (2000) Diversity in income generating activities for sedentarized pastoral women in Northern Kenya Submitted to Human Organization, Nov 2000.
Oxaal, Z. (1997) Gender and empowerment: definitions, approaches and implications for policy. Report No. 40 UK: BRIDGE IDS.
Oxfam GB (2005) Capacity Building for Empowerment. Report of a Workshop held in Jinja. Uganda. 6-8 March 2005. Unpublished report for Oxfam GB