Eight rural women who inspire us

Written by Sally Martinelli

In honour of International Women's Day 2016, IFAD is celebrating eight rural women who are transforming their own lives and those of their families and communities. 

Rome, 8 March – Today is International Women's Day, when the accomplishments and challenges of women from around the world are put in the spotlight.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality. It comes at a critical point in history, as the world begins a concerted drive to achieve 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

At IFAD, we know that achieving a world without poverty and hunger requires investing in rural women and girls, as they are key agents in achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development.

In honour of IWD 2016 and our vision for a better world, we are celebrating eight rural women who are building a better world and inspiring their communities in the process.

1. Juana Huarachi, a llama farmer revitalizing the llama industry in Bolivia.

Juana Huarachi is a llama herder and agronomist who lives in western Bolivia.

In her home town of Curahara de Carangas, Huarachi sells llama meat and sausages, and handicrafts such as hats and scarfs made from llama wool.

Why #SheIsInspiration: For years, Huarachi had tried to change the public perception of llama meat, which was seen as "food for the poor".

She and her sister started selling llama meat to hotels and restaurants in the city, but were unable to continue because the meat processing techniques used by their slaughter house partner was not up to standard.

Huarachi was determined to make the people of Curahuara de Carangas aware of the value of llama meat and of the importance of good production processes and slaughter techniques.

She and her sister set up the La Llamita cooperative with eight other women to bring about this change. The cooperative was supported by an IFAD-funded project, which helped ensure that the quality of their meat was up to market standards, and enabled members to share knowledge and build capacity.

Now Huarachi and her cooperative don’t just produce meat but use the wool fibre to create hats, mattresses, and other products.

Huarachi's perseverance and ability to think outside of the box makes her worthy of praise. Her work to change the narrative of llama meat helped improve food security where she lived, and helped her improve her own life as well by increasing her income.

2. Annonciata Nsekugabanye, a small farmer from Rwanda who jumpstarted her small farming business with one cow. 

Annonciata Nsekugabanye is a small farmer in Rwanda. She participated in the IFAD-funded Kirehe Community-based Watershed Management Project (KWAMP), which provided her family with a cow and taught them good farming practices.

Why #SheIsInspiration: When Nsekugabanye was a seasonal labourer, her family was extremely poor. She could not afford to buy food, clothes and other essentials for her four children.

Nsekugabanye and her husband heard about the programme, and decided to take the risk. Nsekugabanye was able to significantly improve her family's diet with the introduction of nutritious milk.

Her cow also provided organic manure, the perfect fertilizer for a garden in which she  could now grow a variety of vegetables. Nsekugabanye sold the milk and vegetables that she produced at the market, significantly increasing her family's income.

The family was able to expand their production further thanks to their new knowledge of how to run a business. This earned Nsekugabanye praise and respect from her village and enough money to buy clothes, schooling and healthcare for her children.

"I am proud of what I've achieved. I'm proud of my children's accomplishments," says Nsekugabanye."I'm also proud of the social status that I managed to build for my family and myself."
Nsekugabanye was able to increase her income by nearly US$3,000 per year with just one cow.

 Her inventiveness and hard work created a new life for her family, and shows how people in poverty can help themselves if they are given the tools to do so.

3. Fatima Ait Lhoussine, a sheep farmer from Morocco, who is gaining autonomy and financial independence in her marriage because she is earning an income as a small farmer. 

Fatima Ait Lhoussine is a sheep farmer in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. With a micro loan from the IFAD-supported Rural Development Project, Ait Lhoussine bought two sheep to contribute to her family's income.

Why #SheIsInspiration: Before she became a farmer, Ait Lhoussine did not have much independence. She could not manage her money or go out on her own, and she spent her days doing chores or helping her husband in the field.

With the loan she received, Ait Lhoussine was able to take control of her life. The cooperative she formed with other local women allowed them to work together and pool their resources.

Over eight years, their sheep population grew tenfold.

With their money, the women decided to expand into further business ventures such as beekeeping and growing olives for oil. Ait Lhoussine now has the money to buy school bags and medicine for her children, but is also more independent and confident.

"We women don’t have to ask or beg our husbands for money to be able to buy what we need and want," Fatima said. "Now we are autonomous.”

Fatima and her community show us how important it is to work toward gender equality. Their ability to transform their lives and earn their own income demonstrates the positive effects of empowering women on the individual and community.

4. Wafaa Abu Shanab, a fruit farmer from Egypt who is helping to transform her arid desert town into a thriving rural community.

Wafaa Abu Shanab is a fruit farmer from Egypt. She and her family learned how to make the desert land of West Noubari bountiful and profitable with the help of an IFAD-supported project.

Why #SheIsInspiration: Abu Shanab and her family took a huge risk in moving out of the city, where they struggled to provide for four children.

Once they arrived in their new home, they encountered obstacles such as unfertile land and had difficulties obtaining drinking water.

"I began wondering if I could continue and achieve success, or if I should go back to the city?" Abu Shanab said.

After some assistance from the IFAD-funded project, she and her neighbours were able to transform not only their land, but their community too. They established clinics, schools and nurseries to improve their quality of life. Abu Shanab also became more involved by becoming the Gender Officer at the Noubaria Farmers Union.

"I hope my children reach a high level in their education and have a vital role in their community," Abu Shanab said. "Also, I hope that they continue to keep and maintain this land."

Abu Shanab's decision to seek a better life for her family, and her success in building a thriving farm in the desert with limited resources, is representative of the perseverance and determination of women farmers.

5.Tohtehah Aziz, a baker from rural China, who is saving for her children to go to college with the income she is making selling naan bread. 

Tohtehah Aziz lives in the small town of Yanchi, situated in a mountainous region of China. She makes naan bread, a staple in the local diet, and sells it from her home.

Why #SheIsInspiration: Aziz is a member of the Yanchi Naan Women's Association. This group, formed by an IFAD-funded project, gives Uygur women training and micro loans so they can earn their own income and start businesses baking naan bread.

When Aziz first saw some of her neighbours participating in the initiative, she wanted to be a part of it. Thanks to her training, Aziz has raised her income by 4000 yuan (US$645) per month. This training has enabled the women to buy essentials such as nutritious food and healthcare, but also has given them less tangible benefits such as confidence, self-respect and status.

Aziz is not done just yet. "I hope to start my own women's group someday," she says. "I am using the extra income to set aside money to send my two children to college."

Aziz's investment in her family and in her neighbours shows her commitment to building a better future for her community. She wants to not only change her life and the life of her family, but the lives of other women who are not empowered.

6. Ana Sofía Amaya, a hardworking mother and vegetable farmer who is building a new life for her children in El Salvador.

Ana Sofía Amaya is a farmer who helped start a cooperative in south-east El Salvador. With the help of an IFAD-supported project, Amaya and her husband were taught how to develop a viable business and marketing plan and given credit to start their own farm.

Why #SheIsInspiration: Amaya and her husband used to work long hours as labourers on other farms. Even after all this work, they were still not making enough money to send their two children to school.

So, they decided to grow their own vegetables and sell them to make ends meet. This led to the creation of a cooperative of local farmers, which was supported by the IFAD-funded Rural Development and Modernization  Project for the Eastern (PRODEMORO).

PRODEMORO gave Amaya and others the training to negotiate and to secure better land rights, and it helped them gain access to the market.

Since they joined the cooperative, Amaya and her husband have more than doubled their monthly income, and the cooperative has also grown. It now has a warehouse, a plant nursery and two greenhouses.

“The Ana Sofía of four years ago is long gone. I am a new person now. I know who I am, what I want and fight for it,” says Amaya.

Amaya's cooperative shows the power of working together. By pooling their efforts and their produce, they were able to negotiate better prices and work together so everyone could improve their economic situation.

7. Alima Artur, a young woman from Mozambique who is HIV positive and teaching other families in her community how to fight the disease and stay strong through proper nutrition. 

Alima Artur is a young woman from Mozambique who is motivated to make a difference in her own life and in the lives of other people in her community. Artur is a member of a volunteer group that teaches people about HIV/AIDS through song.

Why #SheIsInspiration: When Artur tested positive for HIV, she became extremely depressed. "My life was only about crying and thinking I am going to die," Artur said. With assistance from the Coastal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Nutrition Improvement Project, she learned how to treat her symptoms and was given the support she needed to remain hopeful.

The IFAD-supported Coastal HIV/Aids Prevention and Nutrition Improvement Project (CHAPANI) disseminates information on HIV prevention, and how living a healthy lifestyle can enrich and lengthen one's life.

After learning how a diet with vegetables could help keep her haemoglobin levels steady, Artur became healthier and happier. She also formed a network of family members who help her stay on track and optimistic.

She used her new knowledge to help her community, sharing information through song about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Artur and more than 6,000 other families in the area are keeping themselves strong and healthy by cultivating gardens, which also is combatting malnutrition in the area.

"Someone could look at me and never imagine that I have this kind of problem," Artur said. "I am really fine."

8. Anastasia Gilca, an ambitious nineteen-year-old from the Republic of Moldova who is already making a name for herself in the blackberry industry. 

Anastasia Gilca is a farmer who owns a profitable blackberry plantation in the Republic of Moldova.

Why #SheIsInspiration: Gilca is nineteen years old, and started her three-hectare plantation more than two years ago after taking out a loan. She signed up for the Rural Financial Services and Agribusiness Development Project, an initiative supported by IFAD, which teaches business development, financial management and accounting.

Gilca has become so successful that she not only owns her own tractor, cultivator and cutter, but employs six people. She now wants to expand her farm by planting six more hectares of blackberries, and increase her presence in the marketplace by designing a brand name, logo, and packaging.

"Anyone who wants to set up a business on their own must be determined," Gilca said. "You must be hard-working, and you cannot allow potential risks or negative responses from people to demoralize you."