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Helping Women Make their Mark

24 May 2000

Bonn, Germany: Women in Mali wear many hats. They are the household managers, the farm workers in the fields, the potters and the salespersons in the markets or along village streets. Yet despite their many skills, they find it hard to turn a profit because most work alone at home and have not had the chance to learn about marketing. This is where the UN Volunteers, the majority of them national field workers, come in. They not only bring technical and managerial skills to rural women, but also encourage them to form groups of potters, bakers and gardeners to market their wares. Where seed money is needed, UNVs help present the Malian women's ideas to a funding committee so that grassroots initiatives can grow. UNVs continued to strengthen the role of women in institutions and communities in 1999:
  • As a follow up to the world women's conference in Beijing, UN Volunteers in the field promote the advancement of women and gender equality in all development activities. To that end they have trained staff members of UN agencies, governments and NGOs. In Morocco, UNVs published a Gender Bulletin. In Panama, they opened a Gender Café while in Lebanon, they developed a brochure on how to prevent sexual harassment. UNV carries out this gender initiative in cooperation with UNDP and UNIFEM.
  • A UN Volunteer in the Palestinian Territories coached teachers how to build self-esteem and self-confidence among girls in rural areas. Using videos and the Internet, girls learned to break down sexual stereotypes and identify strong female role models.
  • In the wake of the 1994 genocide, widows in Rwanda face the additional burden of supporting a family and household. UNVs have joined up with a women's association to teach sewing and carpentry to more than 200 women.

In 1999, almost 50 per cent of national UNV field workers were women.

Mariam Haidara

With more than 25 years of experience in nutritional education, Mariam Haidara, 59, knows her field inside out. A qualified educator with diplomas in social work and rural development, the national UNV field worker has a wealth of information gained from previous positions as a trainer and supervisor of district health workers in Mali's Ministry of Health. Given this background, Mariam knows how to pass on skills that remain with the people. "I don't impose anything," she says. "Everywhere I work I adapt and carry out activities based on the needs the people express." Uneducated women in remote Kalaban, for example, wanted training in the local Bambera language. In this way they learn to better manage their daily affairs. At the same time they can teach their children -- sharing knowledge for generations to come.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)