Women empowerment is a process by which females gain power and control over their own lives and acquire the ability to make strategic choices, according to a definition by Wikipedia.
The United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (2002) report highlights that education, training, awareness raising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources, and actions to transform the structures and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality are important tools for empowering women and girls to claim their rights.
In line with this, energy firm, Green Fuel has stepped in with various initiatives to empower women in Chisumbanje area, Chipinge District, about 493 kilometres South East of the capital Harare.
These include capacity building through training in various skills as well as funding income generating projects.
From garment making, agriculture, health and sanitation as well as cookery, the women of Chisumbanje say their lives have greatly transformed following the launch by Green Fuel of the various income-generating projects.
One of the projects is called Manna Creative Fashions, which is a sewing factory responsible for production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and uniforms for employees at Green Fuel as well as other sewing services for the company and the rest of local communities, to which the women supply products such as school uniforms, nurses uniforms and civilian clothing.
On an annual basis, the group of women under Manna Creative Fashions now produce at least 5 000 work suits.
In 2020 they produced 5 993 work suits in addition to 10 029 face masks and expect to increase the figures after receiving an additional four new sewing machines this year.
Another group of women is involved in production of reusable sanitary pads that are mainly for sale in the community while others are donated to local schools. This group of women has produced over 5 000 sanitary pads to date; answering to one of the major challenges women and girls face in rural communities, that lack access to proper menstrual health and hygiene.
Ms Prescah Ndindana, who heads the Manna Creative Fashions said initiatives by Green Fuel came at an opportune time to empower women through economic emancipation.
Women and girls have for long been marginalised from mainstream economy and Ms Ndindana sees the various projects in her community as stepping stones towards women’s economic and financial independence.
“This project has transformed us a lot as women in our community. At a personal level, I have managed to pay for my daughter’s second year in university as well as support my parents,” said the 41-year-old mother, responding to questions.
The project which started off with six women and now has two men to make a total of eight, is upbeat of further expanding into other regions of the district and become a household name all over the country and eventually venture into the export market.
While the project is already helping to transform the community and livelihoods of many, Ms Ndindana said the journey had not been a stroll in the park and called on other women starting new projects to remain persistent, focused, hardworking and determined.
“Starting a new thing is not easy, we had to go through training and we have now gained experience. I have realised that hard work brings success.
“And to the other ladies out there planning to start projects, remain focused on what you want to do plus do it with love and passion,” she said.
But Manna Creative is not the only project being implemented by Green Fuel in the Chisumbanje area for women empowerment. The renewable energy company is also supporting a honey production project for another group of women in the area, while another group is involved in nutritional gardens and community kitchens that are responsible for preparing meals throughout the day for employees.
Green Fuel community relations manager Ms Merit Rumema said the idea was to see improved livelihoods of communities and eventual total eradication of poverty.
“These projects are providing income for women in the community enabling them to look after their families,” she said.