Women’s Empowerment Through Income Generation

The empowerment of women through the provision of activities that can bring them income is a key strategy in the sustainable development of Ethiopia. The worldwide economic recession and the severe food crisis throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa have intensified the burden on poor women. They now increasingly contribute to, and often assume sole responsibility for, the welfare of their families. 

But an increasing number of poor women are creating their own jobs in small-scale agriculture, manufacturing, services, and petty trade.

These income-generating activities are as diverse as small business promotion, cooperative undertakings, job creation schemes, sewing circles, credit and savings groups, and skills training programs. This small-scale income generation provides another source of income for households but, just as importantly, it empowers women in a country that has traditionally devalued them.

The smaller the business, the greater the chance it is owned and operated by a woman. In response to the increasing need, many development agencies, including Rainbow for the Future, have begun to use credit as a development tool. Studies of women-focused credit projects have found positive economic and social benefits resulting from these projects. One of the most important results of these initiatives is the strengthening of capacity in the community to build on what is already there, problem solve, and manage and sustain the development advantage.

Credit for Income Generation

Loans from as little as $80 have allowed women to start new farming activities, enabled them to add value to existing activities, and afforded opportunities to develop off-farm enterprises. These loans have been used by borrowers to purchase, rear, and fatten livestock, begin poultry production, start beekeeping, and produce and process food from harvests. Other women have established market stalls, trading posts, shops, restaurants, and much more.

Around 40% of employed Ethiopian women are part of the service sector.

In the interests of both business sustainability and the health and welfare of women, income generation must not become a further burden on women. Rural women are already very busy as they have the entire responsibility for childcare and household duties. Adding to the already heavy workload, the time needed to build or maintain a small business might be counter-productive.

However, when women are brought together to share the workload and responsibilities, generally everyone benefits. In some cases, the income generated pays for shared childcare or daycare centres. Local initiatives where women can be involved in generating income on their “doorstep” mean that younger children can be kept close to the mother so their older siblings—usually girls—are free to attend school instead of minding them.

It is empowering when women cooperate in income-generating activities as they get to meet regularly, build solidarity, share ideas, interface with local officials and development personnel, and better understand their country’s political and power systems. Women participating in these programs tend to develop improved self-worth and self-esteem. In some cases, women leaders have emerged and developed their skills and knowledge. These secondary benefits cannot help but feed into a process of longer-term, large-scale change by providing the impetus for locally motivated change by and for empowered women.

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