According to the UN, “rural women play a key role in supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security, generating income, and improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being. They contribute to agriculture and rural enterprises and fuel local and global economies. As such, they are active players in achieving the Millennium Development Goals”. Rural women represent over a third of the total world population, but, in FAO’s words “they generally work as subsistence farmers, paid or unpaid workers on family farms or as entrepreneurs running on- or off-farm enterprises. In addition, women provide the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work in rural areas, thereby supporting current and future generations of rural workers within their households and communities”.
Women, as innovators, participants or beneficiaries, are playing a very relevant role in most of the social innovations collected by SIMRA. From the development of productive cooperatives in Egypt or Turkey to pooling and sharing their knowledge and expertise in the UK or Bulgaria, or setting up schemes to tackle societal issues like waste management in Lebanon or unemployment in Spain and Estonia, women are developing projects that enhance the well-being in their local communities.
Here there is a small selection of examples from our database in which women are protagonists of the social innovations developed in marginalised rural areas across Europe and the Mediterranean:
In this example, the women joined their forces and knowledge in order to prevent Turkey’s only Armenian village from becoming extinct due to migration and ageing. Vakıflı Village in Hatay is the only remaining Armenian village in Turkey. With its 135 inhabitants who are all Armenian, the village loses its population day by day. Having realized that the future of the village was in danger, the women of the village came together in 2002 to establish the women’s branch of the church in the village. Their purpose was to sell their home-made organic products (jam, liquors, pomegranate syrup, olive oil etc.) to the tourists visiting the church and making a living out of this. Over time, their products are starting to be sold in a small shop in İstanbul.
Konnu Smart Work Centre (Estonia)
Motivated local people available in the community initiated a smart working centre to solve an unemployment problem in the area. Women share their knowledge, jobs and childcare duties with each other, develop their competences as a team and compete as a unit for work in the labour market. Women with more extensive educational background, work experience and social networks act as mentors bringing work to the centre and organising training courses and launching projects.
“Baba”, which means grandmother, is an initiative bringing together urban youth and elderly women in depopulating villages in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria. It lays the ground for a truthful exchange of knowledge and care between youth and elderly through design thinking and ethnological approaches. The result is a new quality of human relations between generations, documentation and creative utilisation of local folklore and social entrepreneurial projects that help the villages flourish again. Twenty unemployed young people go to live for 4 -6 weeks at a remote village living in elderly locals’ households. There they will learn crafts and work together with locals for the creation of a new innovative idea for a product, service or event that will attract stronger interest to the village.
We heard about this type of initiative in the SITT workshop held in Bratislava in 2016. In concrete, this project seeks to revive and empower Bedouin handicraft producers to start their own businesses, develop their products to meet modern economic needs and link them to markets within and beyond the Sinai region. It provides women with training in technical skills, design development and entrepreneurship in addition to providing information sessions on health topics, peer-to-peer literacy education and child care support. Women are trained in setting up and managing small cooperatives which helps to ensure fair trade, and are also linked to suppliers, fair retailers and a variety of different markets and networks in bigger Egyptian cities, abroad and via the Internet.
The Growing Club is an alternative model business growth club for women sole traders, female owners of microbusiness and female founders of not-for-profit organisations. There is clear evidence that businesses that use a business coach and have support structures in place have significantly higher growth success, but not everyone can afford a coach and not all coaches understand the various roles that women juggle. The entrepreneur behind this social enterprise, is a single mum and business owner who could not find a coach that really grasped what she wanted to achieve. She self-funded and run this initiative in Galgate (Village south Lancaster) aiming to help women struggling in rural areas, who are often overlooked by business support services, or dismissed as a lifestyle business as they run their business from home, working around their family. The women enrolled on the programme are targeted, recruited and selected from platforms such as domestic abuse organisations, sufferers from mental health and persons recently released from prison looking for a second chance to integrate back into society.
Another strong entrepreneur woman is behind this initiative. Aiming for creating integration opportunities in the mountainous area of Sierra del Segura (Albacete), a local young woman founded a local association to promote local development and then a social enterprise dedicated to productive activities while training people at risk of social exclusion to develop general social and labour skills. More than 50 women have participated to date in their first productive project – ‘Costurízate’- focused on textile sector skills training.
Women in the Bekaa region came together to establish a cooperative for the transformation of excess agriculture produce harvested in the region in products with increased shelf life and benefit. They were trained to make products for the market that meet the international standards of market. This has created the possibility of transforming old production recipes into standardized recipes using scientific production indicators. They have also honed their own skills to manage, produce and plan their production. The cooperative has reached a level of production to export to international markets and compete with other products.
In South Tyrol, a group of women farmers provides childcare on farms, what diversifies the farm income while encouraging the children’ interaction with nature. Thus, the farm has been expanded to a place of learning, offering a complementary and alternative setting for environmental education. Moving away from the classical education about the environment and nature towards a direct integration of agricultural resources and the environment as teaching elements, the farm aims at stimulating the curiosity of children in learning, as well as developing their awareness for environmental, sustainable and rural resources. The childcare service includes individually adapted care accommodating up to six children, flexible care hours, integration into the family structure, and transmission of traditional and cultural values, environmental education, and summer care as well as care for children at different events.
When waste collection was neglected by authorities in the mid-1990s in Arabsalim, a woman -Zeinab Mokalled- set up a rubbish collection team by calling on the women of the village to help going door-to-door. The women set up a whole recycling scheme with their own resources (using for instance their own back gardens as the storage area for recyclable waste). In 1998, the women formalised their efforts by establishing an NGO: Nidaa Al Ard. The organisation is thriving, and schoolchildren, students and activists who come to learn from it frequently visit the project. Nearby villages, as Kaffaremen or Jaarjoua, are adopting now similar schemes.
These are only a few examples that highlight the role of women empowerment in the development of social innovations in marginalised rural areas, but if you scroll in the database you will find women involved in most of the examples. If you are aware of any interesting initiative led by rural women or dedicated to the empowerment of women anywhere in Europe or around the Mediterranean, that should be in the SIMRA database, tell us about it and our team will spread the voice!