The Coalition of Women Farmers (COWFA) in Malawi was recently awarded the 2010 Honourable Mention of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its Women Land Rights Project (WOLAR).
The coalition was honoured for empowering women with skills to challenge discriminatory policies which hamper them from owning land. It also provides a forum for the women to share knowledge.
“The association has taught us to be self-reliant,” Evelyn Mwafulriwa, a COWFA member is quoted on UNESCO’s website. “There’s no difference between the women who are on their own and women with husbands.”
Thabo Chidimba, who is also part of the COWFA, adds “What I like most about this group is that we can share our technical knowledge. We support one another and, most importantly, grow enough food to eat.”
According to the submission form and the case studies sourced from ActionAid, a key partner in the project the project aimed at assisting 4,500 women in four districts of Malawi to gain ownership of land, increase their access to resources and services and government training courses, promote awareness of women’s rights and influence agricultural policies and legal frameworks in favour of women.
The project has seen 1125 women start reading and writing, increased awareness of women’s rights , influenced stakeholders to start granting support and grant them loans and seen women attending decision meetings at village, are and district level.
The project, which cost US $400,696, also boasts that even when it phases out, there will be sustainability since the women are from the same area and are determined and capacitated this not counting assurance from stakeholders and partners to continue supporting the women.
It has not been all rosy for the project as Kwanza and Marching were plagued by dry spells retarding its goals. The other challenge is lack of openness among members to share experiences a development blamed on illiteracy.
Testimonies from two women who managed to acquire farming land spiced up the application. The project is being run in Mzimba, Dowa, Machinga and Mwanza
According to UNESCO, despite 7 out of 10 farmers being women, the number of women with full access to land is insignificant. UNESCO said since women are the most hit by famine and Malawi being a country just recovering from a food crisis, it is very important to empower women.
“Investing in women’s literacy carries very high returns: it improves livelihoods, leads to better child and maternal health, and favours girl access to education. In short newly literate women have positive ripple effects on all development indicators.” UNESCO’s Director General, Irina Bokova said.