NIGER Microcredit gives more political power to women

 Economic Development
 15th Sep 2009

By  Zaharou Mamam Sani, CARE Administrator

In 1992, when the idea of a microcredit and savings programme emerged from the first project in the Maradi Region (in south central Niger), it was hard to imagine that its impact on rural women would be more than solely an economic one. More than a decade later, the results are impressive, if not remarkable: the programme, called, MMD has gone far beyond its initial bounds and continues to make enormous strides. Its progress places MMD in a leading position among the organisations working for the promotion of women in Niger.

Through its women’s groups and networks, especially those of elected female officials, MMD has left its imprint on the women’s movement, and carved out a reputation for itself. It has already served as a springboard for several women, one of whom is Baraka Ali, a Commune Councillor in the commune of Tchadaoua.

It was on a sunny Friday during the month of May that we went to meet Baraka, 40 kilometres from the regional capital of Maradi, where CARE’s sub-office is located. We drove for half an hour on a road along which one could see young girls carrying heavy loads of goods on their heads, and who were undoubtedly among the thousands of girls in the region who don’t have the chance to go to school. Those scenes reminded us of the numerous challenges awaiting Baraka in her new role as Commune Councillor and as the person who speaks on behalf of the women in her community. These challenges include girls’ education, community infrastructure, early marriage, and women’s excessive workload. In short, all of the things that hinder the advancement of women in this region of Niger where, because of prejudice and other cultural considerations, women are still considered second class citizens.

Baraka Ali was born in 1961, and has 11 children. “To be honest, I never dreamed of running for an elected position, because I was handicapped by not having had the chance to study longer. In addition there were prejudices of all kinds that tended to make us, as women, think that politics is, and will always be the domain of men. In any event, the Nigerien context seems to confirm these prejudices because women have rarely been seen, except these past few years, in the political arena even when they have the right diplomas.

I had never dreamed of contributing one day to the advancement of my community by actively participating in a decision-making body. I owe my position as Commune Councillor to MMD which I joined back in 1998. It has shaped my life, providing me with a completely different direction from the one that my situation as a housewife had portended.

Before the arrival of MMD, my life focused exclusively on my household. The MMD project opened my eyes to the world. I was a village agent for the project and I acted as its link with the women in my community, providing them guidance. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that the job would lead me to other opportunities. It was through my role as a kind of counsellor to these women that I learned how to recognise their deep aspirations, how to be more in touch with their realities and how to get them to know me better. That was undoubtedly the determining factor in my election because women make up more than 50% of the eligible voters in Niger. As the local elections drew nearer, the MMD project, in accordance with its strategy of promoting leadership among women, strongly encouraged me to submit my candidacy. I didn’t really believe that I had a chance to win, but I dared to try and the result is my current position.

Today, I actively participate on the Council, in the debates and in decision-making. Thanks to the support of two other female members of the Council, I was able to obtain a greater role for women on the Council, although it was a real struggle. This brought me to the position as head of the finance committee where I am uncompromising when it comes to controlling the revenues and expenses of the commune.

Thanks to MMD, I have benefited from a lot of training on such varied issues as decentralization and good governance, human rights, conflict management, gender, etc.

 The best lesson I have drawn from my own situation is that a low level of education or even illiteracy is not an insurmountable obstacle. I intend to do my utmost so that my sisters understand this and so that, together, we will become figures that cannot be ignored in the development of our country. Now I hope to become the mayor in the next elections and even a Member of Parliament one day -- why not? I count a lot on CARE’s support, especially on the leadership and empowerment program to realise my dream.”

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