NOTE: This is a guest post from Anna Kramer, a writer at Oxfam America.
I met Yvette Cissé a year ago today. The farmer from Yanfollila, Mali, traveled to the US for the first time for Oxfam America’s 2011 International Women’s Day celebration. In the midst of an East Coast speaking tour, Cissé told me about the biggest challenge facing her community today: hunger.
“When I was young, we’d eat three meals a day, but that’s not the case anymore,” said the soft-spoken mother of six. She said unpredictable rainfall, combined with chemicals used to grow cotton–Mali’s biggest commercial crop–has weakened the soil and made it hard for farmers to produce enough to earn a living.
As treasurer of an organization called the Malian Organic Movement, Cissé is working toward a solution. Her group trains 8,000 local farmers to use organic growing methods. Going organic improves both the soil and farmers’ incomes, since organic cotton and other products fetch higher prices on the international market.
About a third of the farmers in Cissé’s organization are women. Many are defying gender roles by growing cash crops like cotton, which is traditionally considered men’s work. With support from Oxfam, women members also learn reading, writing, accounting, and entrepreneurial skills. (Mali has a 31 percent literacy rate for women, compared with 47 percent for men.)
“Education has worked wonders,” said Cissé, who said the knowledge gives women confidence to become leaders in their communities. And because women farmers often use their earnings to pay school fees or put food on the table, their children also benefit.
A year later, Oxfam America is celebrating International Women’s Day, March 8, by honoring women who make a difference. Our supporters are giving awards, sending e-cards, and hosting events in recognition of the inspiring women in their lives.
Photo courtesy of Oxfam America.
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