Women feed the world – yet they often have few rights. This is why SWISSAID has been working for decades to empower women. One of them, the farmer Louise Ndodjita, is successfully asserting herself in the male-dominated society of Chad. This is thanks in part to a literacy course.
In this project SWISSAID is actively involved in improving the living conditions of the population in the south of Chad in general and of women in particular. Over 60% of those in the project regions live in poverty. The project encourages measures that contribute to increasing agricultural production and the income of small farming families. Women are supported through literacy courses and with information about their rights, so that they become more independent and self-confident and take an active part in their community.
The farmer Louise Ndodjita doesn’t get much sleep. Her day begins at four in the morning and ends at eleven at night. In between: a lot of work and even more responsibility. The farmer’s wife has five daughters, four grandchildren and five other people whom she supports financially. If she gets sick, one problem follows after another. She can only dream of social security. Getting sick is not an option. But the 53-year-old is lucky: unlike most other Chadian women, she owns land – she cultivates around one hectare, mostly by herself. Her brothers have released the inheritance; they themselves work as teachers and live in the city.
Chad: a man’s world
Yes, Louise Ndodjita is fortunate. And she has worked hard for her good fortune, day after day. She is obviously proud of that. When she speaks, she chooses her words carefully. Her gaze is warm and direct, her gestures lively. Worldwide, women farmers are responsible for around 70% of the world’s food supply. 90% of all food eaten is produced by women. In Chad, however, they have hardly any say. It’s a man’s world, here even more than elsewhere. The peasant women slave away, but they are not taken seriously, because – unlike the men – they can usually neither read nor write. Over 80% of Chadian women are illiterate. Women are also much more frequently victims of violence, including genital mutilation. And they have little or no access to resources such as land or seeds, to money and education.
For years, SWISSAID has been campaigning for the women farmers in Chad and for sustainable agriculture. Literacy courses for women are offered in cooperation with local communities and women’s organisations. More than 7,000 have already taken part – Louise Ndodjita was one of them.
She gets little rest: Louise Ndodjita tills her fields practically alone. But she is lucky – the land is hers.
In events lasting one or more days, people are sensitised to the importance of sending girls to school and enabling women to own land. Women farmers’ groups are given particular support with gifts of cattle and oxen which make their work in the fields easier and increase productivity.
Their own money…
Finally the harvest is large enough to sell a part of it on the market. Thanks to these initiatives, many women have their own money for the first time in their lives. Louise Ndodjita is a member of two women’s organisations in her village. In her fields, she plants sheanuts, which she processes and sells. She finds it a shame that “Women farmers in Chad are still hardly listened to in the decision-making process. Even if they get involved, their point of view is not really taken seriously by their male colleagues.”
Family ties: Louise Ndodjita with her grandchildren, whom she looks after. Her five daughters and five other people are also dependent on the financial support of the 53-year-old.
It is absolutely necessary, she says, that women have a say in farmers’ organisations and on farms. Gender roles are still rigid: when Louise Ndodjita comes home after a hard day in the fields, she takes on the role of a housewife. She cooks dinner, brews tea, heats the bath water for her husband. “If my husband asks me for something such as water, I have to drop everything and bring it to him,” she say.
…their own good fortune
She herself sometimes sleeps in the fields, between two mounds of earth. The farmer wants to give her daughters better life prospects. Two of them are training in health care in the capital Ndjamena.
Louise Ndodjita keeps on working in her fields. Day after day. With little sleep, but a lot of confidence. Yes, she’s lucky.