In a shop at the bustling Potou Market, Thiama Diaw holds court behind the counter while tailors measure customers for new dresses. Bolts of West African prints and Bollywood-inspired silks with sequins are passed, unrolled, measured, and cut. The sewing machine hums outside the door.
A successful entrepreneur with a passion for helping her community, Thiama is not only a shop-owner but also the president of Bokk Jamm, a federation of 125 women’s business associations in the Millennium Villages of Potou.
In Wolof, the language most people speak here in coastal Senegal, Bokk Jamm means “together in pride,” or “determination.”
While her assistants tend to customers, Thiama describes how the women’s business associations work. By pooling their profits, group members can take out loans. Some re-invest in their businesses, which range from cultivating hibiscus to producing cookstoves. Others pay for school fees and home improvements. In addition to providing access to capital, many women’s associations also offer training in farming techniques, nutrition, money management, and other valuable skills. It is often repeated that members find a strong sense of solidarity and empowerment from working and learning together.
Promote gender equality and empower womenMillennium Development Goals
Africa’s people need neither pity nor charity. They need only the tools to create jobs and generate incomes.
Lilongwe, Malawi, May 29, 2010
This is the case across the Millennium Villages Project, where women’s business associations and cooperatives are giving a boost to individuals, their families, and their communities. In Tiby (Mali), a women’s cooperative grows melons along the banks of the Tibybas Canal, and the profits replenish their revolving fund. A basket-weaving cooperative in Mayange (Rwanda) has helped women replace the roofs of their homes and buy school supplies for their children. And in Mwandama (Malawi), a group of women runs a cooperative cassava bakery. These are only a few examples.
For many decades, families in Potou—as in all the Millennium Villages—struggled with high levels of poverty, poor infrastructure, and rampant malnutrition. But it is clear that times are changing. By pooling their efforts and their profits, women are at the forefront of leading their communities out of extreme poverty—with determination, together in pride.