Zanzibar women mean business

Once a destitute housewife with no steady source of income, everything changed for Faida Mohammed Shaib in 2016. The up-and-coming entrepreneur is today an economically empowered lady, traversing the East African region and minting money from her agricultural produce processing business.

“I have no problem with the market. I sell my products both in the domestic and export markets. I have just arrived from Rwanda where I participated in trade shows and made good business,” says Ms Mohammed, depicting the successes of the three-year Women Empowerment in Zanzibar (WEZA II) project.

Under the Tanzania Media Women Association, Zanzibar (TAMWA-ZNZ) executed project to empower female socially and economically, at least 6,000 rural women were targeted in Unguja and Pemba Islands.

The project, which TAMWA ZNZ implemented between 2016 and June 2019 in partnership with Milele Zanzibar Foundation, had the overall objective to reduce poverty and improve social justice in Zanzibar.

“I feel economically emancipated today, I process soaps, cosmetics and other products,” testifies Nachumu Juma Smai, another project beneficiary, recalling her gloomy past when she could hardly generate a penny. But, coming from a typical Muslim society, hardworking women in Zanzibar have become victims of societal backlash.

“We suffer from public loathing… many members of the public perceive us as bad mannered wives because we don’t stay at home, but I have personally decided to ignore the noises and focus on my income generating activities,” says Ms Smai.

Another project beneficiary Saada Makame challenges Zanzibar women to come out in big numbers to work and generate their own incomes, describing excessive economic dependence on husbands as socially, economically and mentally destructive.

The project has successfully mobilised 280 women groups, with over 7,000 members in rural areas into Village Savings and Loans (VSL) in eight districts of Pemba and Unguja. In Unguja, the project covered South, Central, North A and North B districts while Wete, Mkoani, Chakechake and Micheweni districts benefited in Pemba, according to TAMWA ZNZ Director, Mzuri Issa.

“Our specific objective was to increase income while progressively reducing social, cultural and political barriers to women’s empowerment,” says Ms Issa, “We dream creating female billionaires in Zanzibar.”

Under the project, Zanzibar women groups’ savings substantially increased to over 1.5bn/- last year from 312m/-in 2016 while the weekly saving capacity of women groups also rose to over 10,000/-from 2,500/-, the latest project evaluation report shows.

The report further indicates that as of June 2019, the average share value of the VSL stood at 3,800/-, with 14,272,300 being the highest group saving. The Project Consultant, Dr Mohammed Makame Mohammed, says majority beneficiaries-about 67 per cent-reported improved business environment, with better business conditions.

Dr Makame, in his evaluation report to stakeholders in Zanzibar recently, said overall the project execution and coordination registered high performance albeit minor challenges in some of the field project employees, “who lacked the requisite capacity to support the beneficiaries.”

The project was found to have high impact on beneficiaries’ life, with majority admitting to have their lives changed under WEZA II coordinated VSLs, which greatly contributed to poverty reduction.

According to the consultant, majority women who were engaged in petty businesses in the past three years are currently in production industry with not only factories of Bambi and Mavungwa but also handcraft, cosmetics, poultry and vegetables.

Proper labeling and packaging remain among the serious challenges that haunt female entrepreneurs who yearn for personalised label designs for their products. “We need well designed and labeled packages to effectively market our products,” says Ms Smai.

And, the demand for labeled packages, if you ask TAMWA ZNZ Programme Manager Asha Abdi, is one of the great achievements of WEZA II project. “The fact that female entrepreneurs demand properly designed and labeled packages to market their products is highly inspiring, it’s an indication that they have the right marketing skills,” says the manager.

A cross section of the project beneficiaries have shared their testimonies, appreciating the project promoters and implementers for the job well done. They pleaded with TAMWA and its partners to sustain the project, which they termed, “Our social and economic liberator.”