The Empower Women Benefit for All (EWA) Project’s overall aim is to foster economic self reliance and participation in decision making for women and men. VSLA activities were initiated by the EWA Project in Uganda funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands through the FLOW Programme and implemented by AT Uganda. 83 VSLA were established with farmers mainly women saving and taking loans from the VSLA. The farmers who save get their money from small Income generating activities (IGAs) including: Sale of own home grown vegetables; Buying and selling vegetables (kale, cabbage, tomatoes, egg plant); Buying and selling fresh or sour milk; Buying and selling passion fruits, avocado, sweet banana, cooking bananas, mangoes; Hiring out labour (casual labour); Hiring out donkeys; Baking and selling doughnuts; Brewing alcohol; Buying and selling used clothes; Selling cooked food in schools and trading centers; Selling pasture grass- Napier; Buying and selling potato (Irish and sweet); Selling construction material – blocks and aggregate; Buying and selling firewood. These activities are mainly done by women as most of the farmers in groups participating in VSLA are women.
The farmers take loans to: Pay school fees for their children; Hire land for agriculture; Buy inputs, Buy livestock i.e cows for milk, goats, pigs and chicken; Trading (buying and selling) in various items including banana, milk, coffee, maize, vegetables, petrol, tea, used clothes among others; Buy and sell general merchandise such as sugar, salt, soap, paraffin etc. These farmers have been able to start new IGAs and or expand existing IGAs.
The women participating in the project clearly desire to be successful and to be recognized by their households and communities. These women have started enjoying the benefits of their engagement in VSLA which they excitedly counted. By engaging in VSLA activities, the women are:
- Improving their health as they are in better control of their lives and less stressed.
- Contributing to reduced conflict in their households. For the majority of the women this is because they do not have to ask for money from their spouse for everything the need to buy, hence conflict has drastically reduced.
- Getting more self reliant as a result of IGAs supported by the VSLA. Some men who had deserted their spouse and married another woman have returned to the deserted women because they have become self reliant.
- Earning more money and feeding well because they can afford to change their diet by buying more meat and other foods.
- Getting more respected by their spouses and other members of the household who now ask them for assistance as they can contribute to purchase of assets like dairy cows, land and pay school fees.
- Building better permanent houses which their spouses who deserted them had failed to do. This was the case for two women.
- Addressing issues core to their own lives, for example one woman who has no children of her own and decided to adopt her nephew and niece is now sure that she will see them through school because she is part of a viable VSLA and earning from her income generating activity. She with a sigh of relief said, I know these kids will help me in future, I will not die a desperate woman. Another woman who used to cook from the verandah was able to build herself a kitchen, which is considered a woman’s pride in her community.
- Being looked to by their spouses who have begun planning with the women in order to borrow money from their VSLA for use in the household. As a result the men are involving the women in their decisions! This is not the case when men get loans from other sources.
- Earning their own money and not asking the men for everything which has improved women’s esteem. These women said “when you ask for money for everything from the man you feel worthless”.
- Women have been able to start less strenuous businesses and are earning more money unlike before when they had no access to money to expand or improve their businesses.
- Venturing into businesses dominated by men; one Sophie was able to buy a motorcycle for the transport business and is hiring a man to operate it. The income from this business has been specifically earmarked for the education of her twin daughter and son.
- Working harder and becoming innovative in order to raise money to save and later borrow.
- Appreciative of the social protection they get from the VSLA in times of emergencies such as sickness and or death, as the VSLAs have social funds which are given to affected members and also members get interest free loans for such emergencies.
- Learning to improve their lives and homesteads as they get to share more in their VSLA.
Unfortunately for a few women, their success has made the men jealous as they men feel the women have become more powerful than them and has resulted in increased conflict and emotional and physical abuse.