3 Women-Led Projects Making Major Social Impact

March 05, 2014

On International Women’s Day, organizations around the world celebrate women’s equality successes and issues. But for 365 days of the year, AAUW’s International Project Grantees are advancing women’s equality by addressing issues in their communities head-on. From obtaining property rights for widows to building safe hearths for cassava production, these grantees are helping the most vulnerable — and the most resilient — members of their communities make a living.

Here are three recent projects from grantees who are helping women and girls in their home countries inspire change and create new beginnings.

1. Increasing Widows’ Access to Legal Rights

Fako District, Southwest Cameroon

Program participants hold an AAUW banner that reads “AAUW Widows Education and Access to Legal/Human Rights in Cameroon.”

Seeing equality for widows as both a human and a legal rights issue, Evelyn Mafeni (2013-14) is increasing their access to legal services. The motivation for this project came from her observations of how often widows fell victim to Cameroon’s legal system and patriarchal norms and values, resulting in their loss of inheritances and leading to extreme poverty.

By reaching these widows through radio announcements and awareness-raising sessions, collaborating with tribal elders and legal advisors, and developing a network of service providers, Mafeni initiated a cultural shift in her community, and is now seeing these widows use the legal system to their advantage.


2. Starting Women-Led Cooperatives in the Cassava Business

Volta Region, Ghana

Trainees participate in hands-on training at the Ghanaian village’s cassava mill.

Struck by how her middle school friends now look older than she does due to the effects of poverty and other hardships, Mary Dzansi-McPalm (2012–13) became deeply committed to helping women in her community improve their livelihoods.

These women often trade in cassava goods to supplement their families’ meager incomes. However, due to a lack of training and resources, as well as the dangers associated with cassava production, they often end up poorer than they were before. Dzansi-McPalm’s project helped Ghanaian women improve both their earnings and their safety. Now her project’s participants use a more efficient mill, a modern hearth free of the smoke that once caused skin disease and cataracts, and packaging that better attracts buyers. They also now have access to larger markets and local banks.


3. Training Women Entrepreneurs

Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Trainees embroidering brightly-colored fabrics in the workshop.

Aware that women are particularly vulnerable as Nepal’s poverty rate rises, Rabita Rajkarnikar (2012–13) was determined to help economically marginalized women generate income. Her project helped women with limited education and resources become entrepreneurs by training them in management, finances, embroidery, legal rights, and women’s rights.

To ensure that her program was sustainable, Rajkarnikar and her trainees selected a skill that they could do from home — embroidering saree and pashminas — as the trainees’ household duties limited the time they could spend outside. These women now have a loan that is interest-free for six months so they can purchase a frame for making saree at home. They have gained employment at a local factory and started to train other women in their community.

In the words of Rajkarnikar, “The best aspect of conducting [the project] in my home country is that I am able to be of assistance to marginalized women. … I believe that these women are now capable of enhancing their living standards.”

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