African Women's Cooperatives and Fair Trade: A lasting solution to poverty
It’s true, there are lots of good people donating money to large organizations which
have programs to feed the people during famine, run refugee camps and set up programs
to help the poor survive tough times. So why is it that year after year you are
bombarded with the same television and news press ads telling you that your dollars
are needed again to save Africans?
I’ll begin by telling you that there ARE situations where monetary donations are
not only appropriate; but absolutely necessary! During moments of crisis, there
is no other choice than to support those in trouble with immediate aid.
But in order to have Africans living in situations which prevent the need for so
much aid in times of disaster, we need to think differently about the way we help.
The way life goes today for far too many African women is that they live in poverty
with no assistance from anyone until an international drama occurs. Then large organizations
flood in, install temporary camps, feed people and pack up and leave as soon as
the crisis is over.
Immediate but temporary aid is not a long term solution.
African women, as well as women from other developing countries have been telling
us what the solutions are. Only no one seems interested in listening. There are
not enough women in decision-making positions to help sustainable development. Those
currently making decisions about the future of African women are NOT African women.
That is the problem!
The idea that giving money or food during crises will solve them is simply not true.
Africans want to EARN their livelihood, not be the eternal victims of donations
and live in refugee camps for life. Refugee camps which house the same people living
in them generation after generation are not a permanent solution.
Those government officials continuing to buy arms and searching for every excuse
to go to war with their neighbors instead of investing in healthcare and education
are not the solution either.
Allowing foreign companies to come in and run large businesses where workers have
virtually no rights and aren’t paid enough to feed their families is not a solution
either. Let's face it, there are only two groups who win in such situations: big
businesses, which get to sell the same product at a larger profit because it is
no longer held to the same rules and regulations as in the West, and governments
which gain income from taxes all too often funneled into projects which are counterproductive
for their own citizens.
Did you know that there are African nations which military budget is worth ten times
their education and healthcare budgets combined? Add to that that those countries
which are actually interested in improving the lives of their citizens are often
bogged down with loan reimbursement and meeting the cutbacks forced upon them by
organizations such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and the World Bank.
Combine mandatory reductions of social programs and the fact that interest on loans
is often all that can afford to be paid by the poorest of nations. You will then
have a clear understanding as to why governments, even when they are willing, are
unable to meet the immediate needs of their nation’s poorest citizens.
So what IS the solution? Many African women are getting together now to address
the problem of poverty and the vast majority has come to the conclusion that the
best long-term solution to their plight is found in working together. They are forming
cooperatives of all sizes accomplishing a variety of tasks. African women are working
hand in hand, as well as with women from other parts of the world to learn trades,
discover new ways to market their wares, save money for collective village projects
such as education and health centers and the list goes on…
African women are doing what they have done from the beginning of time: depending
on and assisting each other.
Just a couple of the many benefits of these cooperatives in the lives of Africa’s
women is that they are able to have daycare centers where they can leave their children
to be attended to while they go off to work. They also allow women to take charge
of their health through the construction of village health clinics where basic nutrition
and sanitation classes are taught.
If companies in the West would simply entertain the idea of engaging in fair trade
with these cooperatives, there could at last be a lasting solution to the problem
In my opinion, the most effective way to have this happen is to learn about fair
trade and spread the news. After all, there are so many people who are torn between
wanting to help and not wanting to give blindly to an organization which might,
or sadly, might not ever fulfill its promise. These people are people like you.
Good and decent human beings who really do want what is best for Africans; but don’t
know how to help in a way that is concrete and that doesn’t leave African men, women
and children sitting and waiting for a hand-out year after year.
Allow me to propose fair trade as a lasting solution. It will not prevent wars,
nor will it prevent natural disasters such as drought. But in my opinion, it will
definitely assist Africans in being more independent and prepared when such events