Why I work for Rural Women Economic Rights
I am Teh Francis, founder and director of Goodness and Mercy Missions, and then the EnKindle Cameroon Project, an initiative developed after some transformation at the kanthari training in India. I am also a pastor and have served in this capacity since 1996. Goodness and Mercy Missions was founded in 2007 to provide tools to the underprivileged for a sustainable livelihood. The key programs are child sponsorship and fighting for the rights of rural women so they can make independent financial decisions.
People often ask me why I work for the economic rights of women while a man. Why should I not just let the women do it for women? The challenge first came when I was defending a project in 2011 with the World Bank Development Market Place competition in Yaounde. The Project was Children’s Education through Women Empowerment. At the kanthari training in India in 2016 I was often asked this question during hot seats sessions and this question came again after I delivered my dream speech at kanthari in December of 2016.
I suffered trying to obtain an education for myself and more so because my mother was unable to make independent financial decisions of her own. I was born into a polygamous family. My father had more than one wife and several children. With only a meager income from his coffee farm he was unable to provide a good education for us children. I passed through primary school without text books except with an English Reader my father bought for us when in class three. The first years in primary school I went without shoes except some slippers my mother sold vegetables and bought for me. As I look back, it was only by sheer luck that I did not drop out of primary school. And when I completed primary school the next four years of my life were spent working on cocoa farms with a relative at almost no pay. It was only later that I caught up with formal education. I remember an episode in 1993, when bothered with failure to further my education; I sat on the bed, wept out my lungs, took pen and paper and scribbled the words, “yearning for school for many years”.
My mother, dear mother, she always wanted to help, but in those days rural women were made to depend on men for any major financial decisions. I still remember the desire in my mother’s eyes, the wish, the longing for me to continue education but it was a shame in those days even for rural women to think of improving their lot financially. One good example was when my mother wanted to sell maize at the market, she could not take more than 20 litres to the market for fear that the community will begin to laugh at her, to say she is a woman and has an eye on money. Occasionally my mother would send us to market with some maize under cover of the dark before anyone could see us go to market.
The story of my mother is the story of several rural women. With traditional gender stereotypes the situation of rural women has not changed much. Some women still feel guilty handling a reasonable amount of money as their own. There was a day I gave a rural woman some money and her hands shook when I told her, it was all her own. That experience, I did not really like.
From my primary schools days, and when I started working with rural communities, I have always felt that something should be done to address the situation of rural women. I have always believed that if my mother had had the means life in school would have been lot easier for me. Upon all the children in my father’s compound I am the only one who has gone to school to a certain level. Had their mothers had the means, they too would not have dropped out of school. If women are empowered economically, they will make sure their children have a good education and the economies of their communities too will be strong. I have always looked forward to the day when rural women shall be able to make independent financial decisions, when children like me no longer yearn for school for many years because their mothers look on, willing to help but being not able to.