From Housewife to Leader and Entrepreneur
Parwana Hussaini is a resident of Lazir village, in Nili District. She graduated from high school and has one daughter; her husband is uneducated and works as a farmer on his own land. She is now one of the 40 women enterprise members, who is leading a dairy enterprise for the first time in Daikundi province. Her story shows the transformmational potential of this project for both individuals and communities.
She explains: “I was a housewife; my husband was working as a daily wage labourer and was responsible for leading the family and the household economy. Based on the usual cultural norms, I was completely dependent on my husband and was not contributing to the household in any way, due to lack of financial capacity and cultural issues. In 2015, the BRL project supported by Oxfam started in our community, and after project orientation, I understood that some enterprises would be led by women. Then the dairy producer groups nominated me for representation on the enterprise board and, through a confidential election process, I was selected as the chairperson of Lazir dairy enterprise. My confidence was very low, since I had no experience of working with other people outside of the home. In the initial meetings, I was unable to talk in front of male members of the community. I was even not able to introduce myself to the Oxfam project team members or any teams from government or other agencies.”
In the consultation phase of BRL project, researchers identified that women were playing an essential part in livestock management and dairy production and played a lead role in almost all aspects of dairy production. This consultation also revealed the extensive household-level dairy production throughout the target areas. However, it also demonstrated the limited market for dairy products: At the time, virtually all dairy products produced were consumed at home or shared with neighbours. Therefore, the consultation identified significant untapped opportunities for women to increase incomes by accessing new markets for their dairy products and adding value to dairy products.
In keeping with cultural norms, women in this community did not have the opportunity to earn an income. These norms include biases and restrictions that limit women’s ability to exercise their rights, determine their own future, receive an education, and develop their careers. These same norms had kept Parwana from getting a higher education.
In the consultation phase (2014), the people living in Lazir and the surroundings were identified as conservative in terms of their attitudes toward women’s inclusion and leadership in development activities. Shesh village withdrew from the project after realising that it had a strong focus on engaging and empowering women. However, after seeing the women enterprise members successfully run their businesses, many communities, including Shesh village, revised their initial stand and encouraged women in their communities to join project initiatives. Shesh village is now targeted in the BRL extension phase and is bringing their milk to be processed by the enterprises set up through the project.
The effects of shifting opportunities for and attitudes toward women can be seen in Parwana’s story. She explains: “After joining and leading the dairy enterprise, I participated in women’s leadership, GALS, project cycle management, marketing and financial book keeping workshops. These capacity building activities increased my knowledge, and along with social inclusion skills, I was empowered to participate and talk in a large community meeting, taking an active part in decision-making processes. Meanwhile, Oxfam established and equipped the women-led dairy enterprise for us and increased our recognition and dignity amongst community members, government departments, and also the market actors. The linkage, advocacy and market-related workshops and events that were organised for us by Oxfam within and outside of the province also increased my advocacy and negotiation skills. This has enabled me now to bargain and sell the enterprise’s dairy products to the market and communicate with different dairy value chain players with confidence. For example, when the Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development conducted a meeting in our community to select the project to be implemented by the Citizen Charter Program, I (along with other women enterprise members) convinced the community members to select the pipeline scheme project for irrigation. I lead the Lazir dairy enterprise members and the dairy processing business, and my husband now supports me at home by assisting with cooking and caring for our child and others, whereas before this was all done by me.”