Supported by Oxfam, and with the help of some trusty bees, the women of Ghana are changing the rules of rural life that have kept them trapped in poverty.
In northern Ghana, life is tough and the land is dry. There is even more poverty here than in the rest of the country. During the hungry season from June to August, up to three-quarters of families in rural areas don’t have enough to eat.
There are limited opportunities for women to earn a living in northern Ghana. In many areas, they’re not considered capable of performing certain tasks, reducing their options for producing food and generating an income.
“When we had no food to eat, Esther would tell stories to the children to inspire hope.”
Augustina Danaa is 32 years old, and has lived with her husband in Nandom, Upper West region of Ghana for the past six years. They have three daughters to provide for, and it hasn’t been an easy ride.
A few years ago Augustina was unemployed. Her husband’s wages didn’t always cover feeding their children, or buying what they needed to send them to school. It was a dark time.
“We couldn’t grow or buy enough food. I used to feel sick and unhappy. It was a sad situation. My mother-in-law Esther is blind. When we had no food to eat, Esther would tell stories to the children to inspire hope.”
Augustina hadn’t always been unemployed. In days gone by she depended on harvesting and selling Shea nuts. But even then, she was only able to do it on a small scale. She didn’t earn much, and it didn’t come without its dangers.
“Shea butter processing is very labour intensive,” she explains. “It is also risky. There are lots of snakes in the Shea trees. During the rainy season I could sell just enough to get by, but during the lean season we couldn’t make enough money, because we had no way to store the nuts.”
To help people like Augustina, Oxfam worked with local organisations to set up community farming projects that would produce more food and store it for longer. These projects also looked for opportunities for women to earn a living.
And that’s where the bees come in. These busy creatures got Augustina buzzing about new ways to bring in an income when she joined the honey project run by Oxfam’s partner, ProNet. She is one of 200 beekeepers who are now being supported.
“Once I saw that other women could do it, I knew I could do it too,” she says.
With a lot of hard work, hope has prevailed. And life for Augustina isn’t as tough anymore.
Augustina and her husband, Joshua, make a great team. Together they provide for their daughters, and life has drastically improved since they learned new ways to grow food and bring in extra money.
“There is a great difference now in my life,” says Augustina. “My husband farms millet. I can harvest vegetables to re-sell. I can sell honey, which means I can buy food, school books, pencils and clothes.”
More working opportunities have created a domino of positive effects for her family. In stark contrast to the times when they could only afford a few spoonfuls of rice each a day, they now eat a variety of food. “Physically we look fitter than before,” she says. “We would look sick and depressed. I used to feel weak. I couldn’t do much work. Now I can do hard labour.”
Joshua has been nothing but supportive of Augustina’s new ventures. “This project has brought unity between women and men,” he says.”Men appreciate the work that women are doing, and are grateful.”
“My children are all girls. I would like them to be able to take up beekeeping. Education is key to equality between men and women.”
Slowly but surely, women like Augustina are building better lives for themselves and their families. Around the world, Oxfam is supporting more than one million women and girls by making sure they have a say in the decisions that affect them. The sooner all women have the same opportunities to earn a living as men, the sooner they will win the fight to live free from poverty – not just for themselves, but for everyone.
From ingenious ways for women to earn an independent living to producing more food in the dry environment, Oxfam and local partner organisations like ProNet are working with the people of northern Ghana to build better lives free from poverty.