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Poverty alleviation through a gender lens

What does poverty mean to women of my community? This is the question we have always asked to be able to meet the needs and aims of our projects. Poverty to them is the inability to send their children to school, to be able to own a piece of farm land and the inability to rare life stock. It is generally the lack of capabilities which explain why they cannot carry out activities themselves. They are deprived of certain basic resources, either by the leaders of the community or by their gender type. Understanding their needs was the key point through which their livelihood and standard of living could be improved. This would eventually lead to a trickle effect to alleviate poverty. Yedia Foundation works mostly on projects related to agriculture and education. We focus mostly on the women and children, especially those who have been affected either directly or indirectly by HIV/AIDS.

The situation of OVC´s (orphans and vulnerable children); women and the girl child in the North West Province of Cameroon is influenced by a strong cultural constraints and hardship. Over 70% of the women in the rural areas are illiterate. Their house holds depends on subsistence agriculture, craft and small market activities. Women have limited chances to exchange information out side their tribes and villages. Access to credits and income generating activities are limited, OVC´s are maltreated by foster parents and are victims of child trafficking. People especially women living with HIV/AIDS are stigmatized in their communities. In addition the girl child is used as a source of income for her father as she is forced into early marriage.

This motivated the creation of YEDIA Foundation in 1999. It is a grass root based umbrella organization. The organization is working to empower the rural women and their down line in order to improve their livelihood and most importantly alleviate poverty. The goal of YEDIA Foundation is to improve the economic and social conditions of rural women and OVC´s in the community. In order to achieve this goal the following objectives were set aside. Firstly to improve on the socio-economic activities of the women in these communities, by giving them an opportunity to do what they know how to do best. This is done in a cost effective way and with the use of modern technology. For example agriculture, tailoring, craft and small scale entrepreneurs. Secondly, improve on the participation of women in the structures/institutions of the community to enable them take active part in the development/decision making process.

At the moment Yedia Foundation is working with 250 common initiative groups with membership estimated at about 2349members. We have many success stories in our organization though it has always been a difficult journey. At the moment we have a primary school for OVC´s and other less privileged children in the community. We graduated our first pupils to college in 2009. In addition we have supported the women with a power tiller and rice mill to enable large scale production and easy access to markets. We have also improved on farming methods by using highbred seeds, providing the women with fertilizers and herbicide. Most importantly we have negotiated with the traditional leader to enable the women to have access to land which is still a very challenging issue. The women have opened up group poultry and piggery farms. This enables them as a group to have access to credit to improve their small businesses, through micro finance savings and credit schemes. Most of these institutions have employed the women. The institutions have created jobs and empowered the women. They now participate actively and independently on their own projects. Our most recent project is on up land rice cultivation were the women will take an active part in the land partitioning scheme.

Empowering women is not the panacea to poverty alleviation but it plays a very vital role as most women are the head of their house holds. They are somewhat the ones who provide for their families. But the most challenging aspect of empowering these women is the fact that they are resistant to change due to cultural norms and values. They are caught in a “catch 22 position”, were they do not want to let go of the old traditional ways but are faced with the effects of globalization.

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