In Tanzania, many urban and rural areas still function under traditional customs that put women at a social and economic disadvantage. Women often lack economic freedom and access to decision-making opportunities at all levels. They continue to experience poverty and illiteracy at higher rates than men and are more likely to be subjected to gender-based violence. Women also tend to have less access than men to property ownership, credit, training, and employment. Fortunately, those discriminatory traditions, norms, and stereotypes are being challenged. Below, Sijali Kipuli from Somanga Village in Tanzania shows us how a social system in savings and credits can economically liberate the poorest people and empower women.
I was born in 1966
in the village of Nyamwage, in Rufiji Delta. My parents divorced when I was
young, so my mother and I moved in with my grandparents. With little education,
we were poor and felt helpless. But we had to persist and began farming rice,
cashew nuts, cassava, maize, millet, and legumes.
Between 1983 and
2003, I married twice and had five children. I moved to a fishing village,
where I rented a room and started a business as a food vendor selling chicken
soup, rice and ugali—a stiff porridge made from maize or cassava flour.
This business enabled me to buy a piece of land where I built my first house.
In 2006, World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) came to our village to introduce Village
Community Banking—a way for people to get loans without needing conventional
banks that often make such an exercise difficult in Tanzania. Here’s how it
works: a group of community members form one by agreeing to deposit a certain
amount of money into a group savings fund. Members can then request loans from
the group for income-generating activities and educational purposes. These
community banks can also provide funds for healthcare and social concerns.
I attended WWF’s
meeting on community banking with many other women and just a few days later,
we formed four village banking groups of 30 people each. I received
training on savings and loan skills, small business skills, making profits,
finding markets, separating personal and business expenditures, and maintaining
capital. After a year and a half, my group ended the first savings and loaning
cycle, and we divided our money. With my share, I managed to build my first
modern house with six rooms, concrete bricks, and iron sheet.
In 2012, Aga
Khan Foundation, which brings together human, financial, and technical
resources to address some of the challenges faced by the poorest and most
marginalized communities in the world, came to Kilwa, Tanzania, to introduce a
similar project. They were looking for residents who had worked with village community
banks to train others. With the experience gained from WWF, I was
selected as a community-based trainer, working in four wards and 16 villages to
form and organize 84 banking groups. In 2013, WWF expanded its
activities to two new areas, and I helped to form an additional 76 groups and
became a leader of other community-based trainers for WWF projects.
Since I joined a
village community bank, I have managed to shift my food vending business to my
eldest daughter for her to manage. The other two girls are still in school. In
2019, I bought a big farm for planting simsim, a marketable crop for
Indian communities. And I still continue as a trainer to teach women to work
hard to support their family’s education, health, and other developments. I
also own a mobile money transfer shop worth TZS 40 Million (US$17,391) and most
of my clients are fishermen and traders. I am now empowered financially.