Aginatha, what does economic empowerment mean to you?
“It is the ability for women and other vulnerable groups to develop economic confidence through earning their own income. To own that income. To produce and to own, and not be interfered by another person. The challenge is that most women participate in economic gaining activities but when it comes to making decisions and agreeing on ownership, this is done without their involvement. Their capacity to strategically challenge and question needs to be established.”
This brought up memories of her family; it was an honour that she shared her recollections with me.
“We grew coffee and I saw my mother participating in the production of the coffee, from farming and spraying pesticides which affected even her health, to processing the coffee which involved peeling off and drying the seeds, as well as marketing the produce. These were the main functions my mother did when she was alive. When it came to gaining an income from her hard work, my father was the one who collected the money from coffee unions. There was no family platform for partners to discuss how the money was spent, and because of the patriarchy ingrained within the community, my mother was accepting of working in the fields, producing and caring for the family.”
In Africa, large families are common because of extended life expectancy. Having seven people to care for is just normal. “A woman who is the mother is responsible for the well-being of the seven members of her family. It is a lot of work, and hard if you are not economically empowered. Our role in the family is the care taker, and there are expenses that ensure the family survives. If you have no income you cannot fulfil your duties, for example if your child is sick, you cannot independently seek medical help. Husbands spend income on luxuries, when he comes back home, if there is no food on the stove as women cannot provide it financially, this can lead to assault.” For a disabled woman, being a mother and wife means she is required to complete domestic responsibilities, all without an income of her own and while living with a disability.
On a final note, Aginatha kindly shared with me her vision of the impact this new project with African Initiatives will have. She concluded our conversation by summarising her ideal outcome: community sensitisation to the needs and lives of those living with a disability.
“One clear impact that I am working towards is to support the communities and their receptiveness in their acceptance of people living with disability. I want to change the attitude of community and family members, to make it more positive. The question of disability is a challenge because of community mind-set and attitudes.
They need to see disabled people as human beings who have aspirations and desires, and who can be economically productive instead of being locked inside the house and stigmatised as helpless. They are people who can help themselves and realise their own dreams, to contribute to the family, village, government and economy.”
I came away from my time speaking with Aginatha feeling inspired and honoured to be working with such a confident, motivated and philanthropic woman. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog as much as I did producing it, and if you have any questions for Aginatha, please email them to me at email@example.com and I will make sure to pass it on.
Also, keep an eye out for my next interview blog with the Pastoral Women’s Council which will be coming out in November!