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Ethiopia studying Indian self-help groups to empower women

New Delhi, Oct 26 A strong network of self-help groups (SHGs) has managed to improve the social condition of women in Ethiopia and the east African country is now studying Indian models to ensure their financial empowerment.

“We have these neighbourhood groups. They almost control every household,” Tesfayenesh Lema Agregaw, director (Youth Affairs) in Ethiopia’s ministry of women, children and youth affairs, told IANS during a knowledge exchange visit here with her colleagues.

These groups are engaged in formulating polices at the grassroots level on education, health and social issues like child marriage. They also tabulate information about the entire family, including their health records and education details.

They are also involved in creating awareness on sanitation programmes and vaccination schedules, the Ethiopian official said.

“The self-help group is an excellent network. It has widespread reach,” Agregaw said, adding that women account for 98 percent of the SHGs.

She said the Ethiopian government now wants to empower women financially and for this, successful Indian models are being studied.

“India and Ethiopia share some common problems like child marriages. We want to focus on the economic empowerment of women by studying the Indian models,” Agregaw said.

She said members of her delegation have studied Kerala’s Kudumbashree model and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and would try to imbibe the positives of these programmes back home.

The Kudumbashree model aims at empowering women through forming SHGs and encouraging their entrepreneurial skills.

SEWA is an organisation of poor, self-employed women workers with branches across India. These women earn a living through their own labour or through small

Agregaw said the Ethiopian delegation has also met several Indian government officials at the state and central levels and discussed the similarities
in the problems being faced by them as well as the solutions.

According to a latest UN report, Ethiopia has made commendable progress towards reaching most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

Apart from the overall decline in poverty, positive gains have been made in terms of education, health and reducing the prevalence of HIV and AIDS.

The Ethiopian government and the UN are now accelerating their efforts to meet the goals that are slightly off-track like gender equality,
women’s empowerment and maternal health.

Enumerating the numerous challenges before women and girls in Ethiopia, Agregaw said that though the primary school enrollment of girls was pretty good they tended to drop out at the secondary levels.

“Since the rural population is poor, they prefer to send only their male children to school,” Agregaw said.

Pointing to another similarity between India and Ethiopia, she said: “Both the countries also share a patriarchal system of society, which is responsible for many social evils against the girl child.”

Agregaw gave the example of female genital mutilation, which was prevalent in many parts of Ethiopia.

She said it was after a prolonged dialogue with community and religious leaders that an action plan was formed and people were convinced that the practice did not have any religious sanction.

“It was declared as a harmful practice by religious leaders and alternative livelihood was provided to people who carried out the mutilation,” she added.

Ethiopia was also studying India’s national nutrition programme, Agregaw said.