Learning from each other - Rural Women micro-entrepreneurs of two Indian Ocean islands come together – Day 5

After a whole night of thundering and raining, we set out in the morning to see the Commissioner on Woman’s rights. The Commissioner gave us an interesting briefing on the situation of women in Rodrigues.

Each village holds a women’s association which are regrouped under the Women’s Regional Committee. Several members of the Committee have formed a Women’s Enterprise Forum. The Forum benefits from funds coming from different organizations such as IFAD, NEF (National Empowerment Foundation), UNEP, etc in their various micro-entrepreneurial activities. At present, the satisfaction rate of these latter projects is at 75%. The 25% deficit is due mainly too lack of social workers and the fact that certain projects are not well cut-out for the context of Rodrigues.

It has been particularly noted that micro-credits work well for the women of Rodrigues as they are more responsible and work actively to abandon poverty. Village tills set up by UNEP have continued to flourish even after the closure of the project. The major problems now facing these women are trying to find market openings and producing enough to satisfy the market demand. These women are in great need of training, especially in business management. The Malagasy women identified with the latter as they are facing the same problems. What was interesting to note though, was that when we asked the Commissioner about a gender strategy for Rodrigues, she responded by saying they do not need any, as women’s concerns are “naturally” intergrated in all systems of work! Something which is not as natural in Madagascar, and for which there is still a lot of work to be done.

We then proceeded to the site visits. We had the occasion to meet intelligent, independent, persevering women like Mrs. Boncoeur and Mrs. Casimir who have demonstrated the importance of having a vision and acting upon it and discarding the word impossible. Mrs. Boncoeur, with a mere 13 days of training in greenhouse making was able to set-up three large functioning greenhouses, a real record! Mrs. Casimir is a coffee producer and transformer, and she undertakes her whole activity at home. In Madagascar, people have stopped cultivating coffee as prices are too low. Mrs. Aimé, one of the Malagasy ladies realised that if Malagasy women take up coffee cultivation again and learn how to transform like Mrs. Casimir, this will add value to their coffee and hence increase revenues.

We also visited two other micro-enterprises, “Mange-Tout” and “Rose à l’Ouest”. “Mange Tout” which translates into “eat all”, is a bakery run by 5 members of an association. Here we noticed that the bakery does not run on a full-time basis, and members have not received training in keeping simple accounts. Even though they have been allocated a building and been furnished with proper equipments, the latter is not being exploited to its full potential. The same phenomenon was observed for “Rose à l’Ouest”, a micro-enterprise involved in handicrafts. Here, the members use the village Community Centre once a week for a few hours of work. We observed in both cases a lack of professionalism even though the means are in place.

Here the Malagasy women learned about the importance of understanding ones potential. Women are generally more humble in nature and therefore reluctant to be out there independently to try new things. Women like Mrs. Boncoeur and Mrs. Casimir who have dared to try and succeeded as a result, are a model for all.