Federation Level Association of Wotan
June 2023, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Self-help group systems play a crucial role in empowering individuals, especially women, to overcome economic and psycho-social challenges. These systems provide women with greater access to knowledge and resources, increased autonomy in decision-making, the ability to plan their lives, control over influencing circumstances, and freedom from restrictive customs and beliefs. In Ethiopia, Self Help Groups (SHGs) are comprised of low-income women involved in various business activities, often securing capital from their savings or donor agencies to enhance or initiate these ventures. The primary focus of SHGs is poverty reduction, livelihood improvement, women’s empowerment, and social inclusion.
There are three levels of SHG organizations in Ethiopia. At the basic level is the SHG, which consists of women membership in the same neighbourhood and, in most instances, from the same socioeconomic status. They form their own rules and regulations on the saving amount, frequency of savings, loans given to members, and financial and other psycho-social support issues. They elect within themselves leadership responsible for bookkeeping and managing other group administrative issues. The second level is the Cluster Level Associations (CLAs) which consists of groups of SHGs and focuses on conflict resolution of the SHG, establishing new SHGs and strengthening existing SHGs, creating a synergy of SHGs and with other state actors and other nonstate actors. CLAs engage in capacity building, extension services, education, and awareness for women in SHGs. CLAs form representation in a low level of government, such as at the regional level, and articulate issues of concern for women. The third level is the Federation Level Association (FLAs) which constitutes CLAs in an area, and they form representation at a higher level of government, such as the federal level. They focus on enhancing the economic role of women and offer social support, gender empowerment, and community services by intending to change policies on those issues. Therefore, FLAs, CLAs, and SHGs provide more than economic support systems.
In the city of Hawassa, Ethiopia, there exists a notable SHG known as the Wotan FLA. Established in 2012, this organization aims to empower women, foster self-reliance, and improve their financial status by promoting a saving culture. The FLA is driven by a strong commitment to advocacy work, seeking to ensure that women in Hawassa actively participate in social, economic, and political endeavors, including policymaking. Central to the FLA’s mission is the goal of forging partnerships between women and government officials, fostering collaboration and mutual support. They also work with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), to help prosecute abuse cases. To achieve self-sustainability, the SHGs within the FLA rely on savings generated from their businesses and other income-generating activities. The FLA comprises 12 CLAs and 148 SHGs, with a membership of 3,778. These SHGs have accumulated savings amounting to ETB 3,620,824.95, and they have access to revolving loans totaling ETB 6,346,720.00.
The impact of the FLA’s advocacy work extends beyond direct beneficiaries, such as their efforts have impacted 11,412 children, serving as a powerful force for positive change. The FLA has achieved significant milestones, including successful prosecutions of perpetrators involved in abuse cases targeting women and children. In response to the prevalent issue of human trafficking during immigration, the FLA has undertaken specific educational campaigns to promote the safe migration of women to Gulf States and South Africa. Additionally, they advocate for safe sex practices among women engaged in commercial sex work. Collaborating with donors, the FLA has also provided sanitary menstrual products, ensuring that girls can attend school without interruption. The Wotan FLA is a testament to the transformative power of collective action and determination. Their work exemplifies a commitment to empowering women and addressing critical societal challenges. By promoting economic independence, advocating for the rights and safety of women and children, and partnering with stakeholders, the FLA continues to impact Hawassa and other areas.
At the center of the Wotan FLA is Ms. Tayech Berhanu, the Chairperson, who has overcome personal hardships to lead the organization. Previously facing the hardship that entailed begging on the streets and relying on assistance from NGOs and other organizations to support her family, Ms. Berhanu’s determination to help others, particularly women and children, stems from these experiences. Motivated to make a positive impact and give back to her community, she actively joined and organized SHGs to provide economic and social support for women during difficult times. While initially struggling to save within the SHGs, Ms. Berhanu and other women received training from Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization (JeCCDO) that emphasized the significance of collective resource pooling. She witnessed firsthand how savings and loans transformed the lives of women, enabling them to strengthen their businesses. The SHGs also served as a platform for women to understand their human rights and become advocates within the community. Through their strong advocacy efforts, the FLA has campaigned for policy changes regarding women’s and child abuse, as well as addressing systemic injustices that fail to hold perpetrators accountable. Ms. Berhanu actively engages with authorities to shed light on issues of abuse, becoming a voice for the voiceless.
The formation of SHGs, facilitated by NGOs under the umbrella of Consortium of Self-help Group Approach Promoters (CoSAP), played a critical role in the constituting SHGs, CLAs, and, ultimately, the FLA in Wotan. The FLA ensures that women’s voices are heard in political, economic, and social endeavors. However, their work faces numerous challenges. Political instability and lack of clear succession in government offices often require them to reintroduce themselves during changes in regional governments. Some government officials perceive the FLA as a threat, hindering their progress. Moreover, the SHGs lack legal recognition, limiting women’s representation in important forums and impeding their access to financial and banking systems. Ms. Berhanu also faces intimidation from influential abusers she has advocated against, seeking accountability for their crimes. Nonetheless, Ms. Berhanu remains hopeful for the future and is eager to expand the FLA’s reach. She aims to broaden its scope to have a more significant impact, reaching more women in need. Despite the hurdles the women encounter, the FLA’s dedication to empowering women and driving positive change persists.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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