‘The Valiant Little Tailors’: Campaign for women’s rights in Chad

In Chad, poverty and illiteracy go together like a needle and thread. The women have few rights and are dependent on their husbands – and are often beaten by them too. It’s not easy to break out of this situation. A few seamstresses give their all.

The women in Chad wear incredibly brightly coloured fabrics with flowers, fruits and trailing vines. The gowns are long and flowing to protect them from the sunshine and to meet religious and cultural demands, as well as offering plenty of room to move whilst at work. The robes suit the women because they are made by seamstresses who know just how hard life can be as a woman. And they want to cheer up their customers a little with the clothes.

Violence even during childhood

For the women in Guéra and Tandjilé, two of Chad’s poorest southern regions, violence is an everyday part of life. Many are victims of child genital mutilation and forced marriage and later suffer domestic violence in their marriages. Since their income is insufficient to meet the family’s needs, many men leave the village to look for work in different regions or abroad. The women stay at home to look after the farm and their children. They work as well as they can in the tough conditions on their barren fields. The water supply is precarious, the circumstances for survival incredibly harsh and they are unfamiliar with modern agricultural methods.

Poverty and illiteracy: a vicious circle

Basically, the lack of knowledge is a huge problem – 90 per cent of the women in rural areas are illiterate and almost 75 per cent have never attended a single school lesson. The lack of education drives them into a dead-end: illiteracy, poverty and economic dependence create a vicious circle that is difficult to break out of. At work, when renting a plot of land, building a house or visiting a doctor – anyone unable to read and write is at a disadvantage in every respect. It is a cause of stress for many mothers and fathers that the future prospects of their children are scarcely any better.

Making a change

SWISSAID attempts to put a stop to this vicious circle and offers literacy courses specifically for women. According to UNESCO calculations, a single additional year of schooling can increase a woman’s income by 10 per cent, and even by 20 per cent over their lifetime. At the same time, the women are shown how they can better cultivate their plot of land. Local partner organisations equip women farmers with tools and adapted seeds and together with strong men from the village community they are building wells to irrigate the fields. This means they can harvest enough to feed often very large families and maybe even sell some of the harvest. Even in the smallest farming village in Chad, it’s not possible to live totally without money.

A step towards independence

A hairdresser’s salon or small grocery store: for women farmers who have basic skills in reading, writing and maths, the obvious idea is to set up their own small business. This is possible thanks to managed micro-loans that SWISSAID offers the women. In an earlier project phase several talented and interested women were able to found a sewing studio with start-up capital from SWISSAID and to buy the basic stock of fabrics, needles and threads. Their work has been worthwhile: the seamstresses are now partaking in training courses on cutting techniques and embroidery and can sell their clothing throughout the region. They continue to receive support so that they learn how to manage their small business effectively and improve the profitability of their creative efforts. Stitch by stitch they are heading towards a better future.

Project code: TS 02/14/01

Project duration: 12 months

Project costs: 86,533 Swiss francs

Target group: 3,469 direct beneficiaries, 21,193 indirect beneficiaries