Using Economic Groups To Empower Women For Better Health

EmpowermentALTHOUGH Mrs.Amina Haruna looked pale and sickly, she cannot afford to go the hospital. not move a step to visit hospital. In the remote area of Filask in Sokoto where she lives, it will cost her about N400 to get to the nearest hospital. But Amina has just N200 to live on and feed her three children. That makes Amina to live below the poverty level, a stumbling block to healthcare for most Nigerians.

A lot of women in Nigeria are in Amina’s shoes They cannot access healthcare because they are poor. Experts say that the link between ill-health and poverty is a very strong one. But the United Nations (UN) says “empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities.”

It is based on this understanding that the the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Targeted States High Impact Project (TSHIP) intervened in the economic health of women in Sokoto and Bauchi States by helping them to access better life. USAID/TSHIP, being implemented by a consortium led by John Snow Inc, has the mission of increasing the use of health services of households in the Northern Nigerian states of Bauchi and Sokoto.

In furtherance of that mission, USAID/TSHIP assisted women in Sokoto to set up the 100 Women Group (100WG), an initiative targeted at women, including Amina, in Sokoto to help them develop financially, politically and also access good health services. The 100WG is an organised network of women that has representation in each of the 244 wards throughout Sokoto State. 1,300 women serve as executive officers of these groups. Most of the 100WG were formed in 2011 and a few early in 2012 from already existing organic women groups in the various wards.

Today, the group has become a rallying point for women in different community trade cooperatives of women across the state who gather together to get trained on how to enhance themselves financially.

The importance of this initiative, according to Chief of Party, Dr. Nosa Orobaton, cannot be over-emphasised. Sokoto State’s poverty rate of 80 per cent is well above the national rate. In addition, the maternal mortality ratio of 1,500 per 100,000 live births is nearly three times the national figure.

Orobaton added that studies have established a relationship between poverty and the delivery of maternal health services. In addition, women tend to save and spend income they control for essential maternal, newborn, and child health services. “Therefore, investments that increase women’s access to financial services and control of enterprises that produce income are highly likely to improve use of health services and maternal and newborn outcomes,”Orobaton said.

He explained that the project invested financial and technical resources in a successful multi-sectoral women’s empowerment platform known as the 100WG. The 100WGs are fully registered as cooperative organisations with the Sokoto State Ministry of Commerce and Industry. They are also registered with the State Ministry for Women Affairs, which mentors the groups. Each cell at the ward level meets at least once a month; members save their own money into a pooled fund that is lent to members, from which savings plus interest are periodically paid.

Orobaton noted that the project conducted health education sessions and equipped women with advocacy skills. The project trained 100WG members in financial management, which included basic accounting and resource mobilisation. This improved group members’ business management skills and helped them to start new ventures in vocations such as soap making, tie and dye, knitting, beadwork, leatherwork, farming, and catering services. He added that USAID/TSHIP trained the groups in health education and advocacy so that they can conduct health outreaches to the community.

USAID/TSHIP also worked with the groups to identify potential third party lenders to compliment and build upon the internal, small-level lending that the groups do. Beyond micro businesses, funds are used for basic upkeep, health needs, and emergencies. In 2014, the project collaborated with the Sokoto State government to secure soft-interest loans from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The bank has set aside $125 million as loans that are principally designed for women’s groups, Orobaton said. As the largest and most organised women’s organisations in the state, 100WGs are early recipients of loans. To date, 100WGs in all 23 local government areas have secured loans from the CBN.

Consistent with previous studies, members of the 100WGs in Sokoto report that their self-esteem and self-confidence has improved since joining the group and they have greater knowledge, skills, and access to reproductive health, income generation, and politics. The groups have led to greater representation of women at the community and household levels. More women, including Amina, are using their influence and knowledge to educate their communities on maternal, newborn, child health, family planning, and reproductive health.

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