Loans to women are used for everything from setting up beauty salons and cafes to buying fertiliser
Women do an estimated 70 per cent of the farm work in Ethiopia, but because men do the ploughing it is they who are considered to be the farmers. This means men control the family income. Gorta-Self Help Africa is involved in a drive to encourage women to join credit unions and share control of the family finances.
With the support of the Irish credit-union movement it established Yenetsanet Credit Union, in Butajira, an umbrella group for 109 rural savings and credit co-operatives.
About 15,000 people are saving and borrowing from these co-operatives. They must save at least 20 birr (about 80c) a week; after six months of saving they can take out one-year loans. These are for as little as €40 or for as much as almost €20,000, and they are used for everything from setting up beauty salons and cafes to buying fertiliser.
We visit one of the savings co-operatives, where women with babies are queuing to lodge wads of notes. The agency’s inclusion adviser, Mary Sweeney, says it is making a real and practical difference to the lives of women, because they finally have a say in how the household income is spent.
Gete Kerala, who is 38, has received several loans from her co-operative, the most recent being for 33,000 birr (about €1,310), last year, to build a retail unit that she is now renting as a clothes shop. Her four children, aged five to 15, are also members of the savings co-operative. “My life is much better now,” she says. “Before I joined the savings co-operative I didn’t have a job. I had nothing. Now I have built this,” she says, gesturing to the shop, “and I have also a small restaurant.”
Yibeltal Asmare, manager of the Rural Savings and Credit Co-operative programme, says women initially made up 100 per cent of members; then men began to get interested, and they now make up 30 per cent of savers. Co-operative members must vouch for someone seeking a loan, which may explain why the default rate is just 5 per cent.
Sweeney says evidence shows that when women control more household income, children get a greater benefit, as mothers are more likely than men to spend money on food and education.
Less than half the population has access to an improved water supply; in 2011 less than a quarter of the population had access to electricity. Next year the government aims to begin generating electricity from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam hydropower project, which is expected to be Africa’s largest power plant. It says it will have reached 75 per cent of towns and villages within five years.