«Women play a key role in Chad’s economy»

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Over half of Chad’s population is female. Women are increasingly participating in local economic activity thanks to measures aimed at improving education and literacy. They play a key role in the SDC’s project on the management of run-off water in Chad’s Sahel region.

There is still significant gender inequality in Chad. By taking part in local economic activity, women are attempting to cast off their traditional role and improve their living conditions. Predominantly living in rural areas, they are making an increasingly important contribution to the agricultural sector. They work in market gardening and livestock farming in particular. Over three-quarters of the nation’s economically active population works in agriculture, which faces growing difficulties due to climate change and soil degradation.

Rémadji Mani manages the national programme in Chad for the SDC. On International Women’s Day, she gives an insight into the work being done by women and their involvement in the SDC’s project on the management of run-off water in the Chadian Sahel.

What position do women occupy in Chad and in the Sahel region in particular?

Generally speaking, the woman’s place is in the home in Chad. From when the cockerel crows, they go to find water, cook meals and look after their husband and children. They then tend their vegetable plots. When they return from the fields, they resume their domestic chores. Their day is a long one and girls are brought up from a young age to perform household duties. Especially in the Sahel region, they are married off very young and spend little time at school.

What role do women play in the SDC’s project?

Women are involved in building and maintaining weirs. They help to transport water and gravel. More of them take part in the construction work than men because they are willing to accept wages that the men refuse.

In this poverty-stricken region, many men move to the towns in search of better pay. They can be away from a few months to over a year. The men who stay behind work on the building of the weirs. They are involved in selecting the sites and designing the weirs and dig the canals. They also deal with the purchase of equipment, such as motorcycles and motor-driven pumps. These men also look after the livestock.

Large numbers of women work in market gardening and small-scale livestock farming in the cultivated valleys. They grow lettuces, tomatoes, okra and cucumbers on small plots of land. The harvest is used to feed their families and to produce modest additional income through the sale of some produce at the market. They not only carry out seeding and planting but are also involved in picking and processing the harvest (sorting, winnowing, shelling and pounding, etc.). Rainfall is too low in this region to allow for intensive farming. Water presents a major challenge in the Sahel. The women bear the weight of the food security of the communities living in these areas on their shoulders.

How is the involvement of women perceived by the other players in the project?

Women work a lot in the cultivated valleys. The ones who can be seen in the fields are the same women you meet at the market selling the fruits of their labour. The objectives of the SDC’s project cannot be achieved without the participation of women. They are the main intermediaries.

Measures aimed at raising awareness about the role of women have been undertaken since the start of the project. Today, the entire community holds a positive view of women working to improve the land and water situation.

Do gender synergies produce efficiency gains?

Such synergies clearly increase efficiency. Today, the roles performed by men and women complement one another enabling weirs to be built and cultivated valleys to be farmed. The beneficiaries of the project – 50,000 people in the three regions of the Chadian Sahel – are satisfied. Women are seeing a gradual change in their situation. Despite the arduous nature of the work, it gives them a sense of satisfaction and dignity. The rest will come over time.

Why is it important that women take part in the project?

The population of Chad stands at around 13 million. Women account for over half that figure – between 51 and 52% according to the statistics. 40% of them live in rural areas. Women perform a wide range of productive jobs. They make a major contribution to the national economy and its development. At the SDC’s annual conference, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, applauded Switzerland’s efforts towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, especially those concerning gender equality, the availability of water for all, and the promotion of peaceful societies. These three objectives are part of Chad’s national development policy. What are the next challenges to overcome?

Women of course take part in the construction of the weirs and farming in the cultivated valleys but are still not involved in decision-making processes to a sufficient extent. You will not see any women amongst the men, for example, when the subsidised farming equipment is handed over. In Chad, women do not dare to speak in public, especially if there is a man in the group. The situation is beginning to change gradually but there is a long way to go.

When I plan visits to the beneficiaries, for instance, I notify them beforehand and ask for the women to attend as well. I explain the importance of their presence. The men have understood and accepted this. The efforts to involve women must be continued. We also wish to ensure better recognition of the remarkable work they do. We are currently reflecting on how to approach this.