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A shout out to some of the women who have inspired me

In honour of International Women’s Day 2019, Steph highlights the incredible work of some of the women WRENmedia have recently collaborated with.

Sophie, Susanna and Steph (L-R) power posing on International Women's Day

Since I started at WRENmedia, International Women’s Day has taken on a whole new meaning. It is now a key event in the calendar to celebrate women leaders across the globe that we have featured in Spore magazine, as well as an opportunity for us to explore what more needs to be done to promote gender equality in the agricultural sector. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good occasion to look back at some of the inspiring women that I have been fortunate enough to work with over the last two years.

Dr Jemimah Njuki, Senior Programme Specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

After communicating regularly with Jemimah over email, I finally had the chance to meet her when Sophie and I travelled to Ottawa in October 2018, to provide presentation training to IDRC researchers. In between the training sessions, I interviewed Jemimah about the continued challenges that women entrepreneurs must overcome to build profitable businesses in the agricultural sector. Jemimah’s work on gender equality and women’s empowerment for IDRC, as well as her personal experience as a successful Kenyan woman, positions her as a respected authority on this subject.

Jemimah has long advocated the huge potential of women researchers and business leaders to transform African agriculture, if they are given equal opportunities to men. However, there are still a number of integral barriers that need to be addressed before gender equality can be achieved. A key issue that Jemimah highlighted during our interview is the lack of inclusive financing mechanisms for women. She informed me that, “The global financing gap for women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises is about €17.5 billion.” This is unsurprising when you consider that women who apply for loans only have a 30% chance of success. How are women supposed to turn their ideas into tangible change if they are unable to find financial backing to get their ventures off the ground?

There is no quick-fix solution to level the playing field for women in agribusiness, but one of the programme’s that Jemimah is supporting at IDRC aims to ensure that financial inclusion actually leads to improvements in women’s lives. In Tanzania, the programme is trialling gender training for couples where women access financial services. The intention is to find out whether such training helps women to maintain control over their loans and bank accounts. It is one thing to change the attitudes of financial institutions to convince them to offer services that meet women’s needs; but it is a whole other challenge to guarantee that this transfers to women’s empowerment in their homes.

Sabdiyo Dido Bashuna, Senior Technical Advisor for Value Chains and Agribusiness at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

Sabdiyo has provided valuable support with our planning and writing of Spore’s gender-focused articles, most recently for an analysis article on Ag-tech’s potential to boost women’s empowerment. At CTA, Sabdiyo leads on the VALUE4HER programme, which provides business-to-business matchmaking, training on market dynamics, and a competitive innovation fund for women entrepreneurs. “We are helping these women access higher value markets, acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence to operate effectively in such markets, and access the capital that they need to grow their business,” Sabdiyo explained when I interviewed her last year.

With over 22 years of international development experience, Sabdiyo’s work has helped to improve the livelihoods of men and women across the globe. I asked her whether she thought things have improved for women since she began working in the sector: “Increasingly, people are realising that we need more women in leadership positions and managerial roles.” Despite this positive shift, Sabdiyo admitted that, in practice, efforts to increase opportunities for women in agribusiness aren’t moving fast enough. Again, this comes back to addressing cultural gender bias in women’s homes and villages. Alhough there is clearly still a long way to go before women are given equal opportunities to men, Sabdiyo’s advice for women entrepreneurs is to, “Just go and try it, nobody is going to give you the freedom to do it, you just have to push it.”

Vesta Nunoo, Grant Manager, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)

Sophie and I had the delight of meeting Vesta when we travelled to Benin in October 2017 to report on the capitalisation workshop of the Platform for African-European Partnership on Agricultural Research for Development (PAEPARD). In a room full of mostly male researchers, Vesta radiated confidence and positive energy. She was particularly encouraging and supportive of our ideas for the policy brief that we were commissioned to write reflecting on the workshop’s outcomes, and we have continued to work with her on a number of other PAEPARD assignments.

As a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants Ghana, and with a Master’s degree in Project Management, Vesta is justifiably self-assured in her role as Grant Manager for FARA. Through her work at the Forum, as well as in supporting the Ghana Research and Advocacy Program and Sub-Saharan African Challenge programme, Vesta has facilitated agricultural research projects that have the potential to transform African agriculture and boost the food security of the continent’s most vulnerable populations.

In Benin, for example – where 23% of the population is estimated to be nutritionally insecure – PAEPARD and FARA have supported a project that trained at least 1,500 women soybean processors to develop stabilised soy milk. Stabilising the milk has extended shelf life from just 24 hours to up to 6 months and, with access to improved processing technologies, the women’s soy milk production has tripled. The increased production and shelf life of the soy milk has not only boosted the protein intake of 11,000 families in southern Benin, but also benefitted the women processors’ incomes.

The WRENmedia team!

Finally, it would be a disservice to the entire precedent of International Women’s Day not to acknowledge the four inspiring women that I am lucky to work alongside at WRENmedia. I feel privileged to work in a supportive, women-led team, where I have been able to develop and impart my own knowledge and communication skills. It has been exciting to meet and work with so many admirable women during my time at WRENmedia, and I’m looking forward to being introduced to many more inspirational new faces over the coming year!

Follow the link to Spore’s International Women’s Day newsletter to read more about some of the impressive women we have covered:

Steph Lynch

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