Realizing Rights believes decent work opportunities are key to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). That is why we have been supporting over the past year a project by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) in Ghana aimed at "Enhancing Women???s Economic Empowerment for Self Reliance".
Blog by Irina Bazarya, Program Officer
We recently visited Tamale in northern Ghana where the GCAP project has worked with two groups of women who are self-employed and live in remote agricultural communities. These women have faced a lack of financial services and access to credit for many years. Providing theme with access to small loans and financial services, as has been done in many other places around the world, has proven to be key in fostering more opportunities for decent work and better standards of living.
Our team visited two communities one year ago when the project with GCAP launched. We returned to see the results. We heard from women about how the program was affecting their lives. An elderly woman from the Fuu community said:
???We used to buy ???yura-yura??? (the cheapest fish) for our family dinner. But now I can get a better fish for our soup. Not only that, but I also pay my grandkids??? school fees.???
In the first year of the program, small-scale loans have improved the women???s earnings and allowed them to generate additional savings. Both communities now maintain accounts at formal banks. They have already accumulated savings in these accounts which could be used to help finance their business activities.
In Dalogyili community, women used their savings to finance the purchase of cookers for the processing of groundnuts. They chose to finance the cookers through their own savings instead of borrowing. Why? They figured out that they will avoid the interest payments. These women are becoming really savvy with their earnings!
Nevertheless, women also want more education. Besides bookkeeping and financial management, they want additional skill development that would further improve their earnings ??? for example, training on how to turn raw shea butter into soaps and other consumer goods. Another issue we heard about during our visit concerns the migration of young people to southern Ghana. One young woman from Dalogyili suggested that new activities such as dressmaking and hair styling would be attractive for young people. If they had opportunities in the north, they might stay.
We are aware that the sustainability of such micro-lending programs is often a concern. Therefore, it is important to build connections between micro-lending initiatives and formal banks, particularly those which have the capacity to provide financial services to small scale informal activities.
Our work in Ghana is a concrete example of how human rights approaches, which focus on decent employment and the active participation of local women and their communities, can contribute to achieving the MDGs. We left knowing more must be done to link informal enterprises to formal financial institutions and to make programs like this sustainable in empowering women and helping them work out of poverty.
Later this month, Mary Robinson and the team from the Realizing Rights Trade & Decent Work program will be back in Ghana where we will continue this discussion in a high-level meeting with government, business, trade union and civil society leaders This meeting will be the culmination event with our partners in the country as Realizing Rights comes to a planned end in December.
The event in Ghana - Promoting Decent Work and Social Protection: Can we achieve it at the country level? - will highlight the partnerships Realizing Rights has participated in over the past five years in Ghana. We will take stock of accomplishments, identify ongoing challenges and plan future strategies so that the right to decent work can become a reality for all.