Women Together in 2018
2018 has been a HUGE year for Women Together!
We launched 2018 with our first Women’s Learning Exchange in Malawi in May, bringing together three women’s groups from southern Malawi to learn how to make clean-burning cookstoves, to reduce deforestation, air pollution, and women’s expenditure of time and energy on collecting wood and buying charcoal.
Since then, we have continued to support these women’ groups, bringing them together for financial literacy training, for quality control workshops, for visits to markets, and for the pure joy and power of being women together. The groups have now gone on to build their own cookstove workshops, and make their first big sales.
This year we also met a wonderful group of women living on Lake Malawi, in a place called Namaso Bay. They told us about the limited opportunities available for young women in their community, and the high rates of teen pregnancy. This fall we worked with them to set up our fourth cookstove-producing group. A group of 10 women from this community, including young mothers, have begun their cookstove training and will hopefully be producing and selling before the end of the year!
Alternate Fuel Briquettes
During the summer of 2018 we brought three different women’s groups together in the central region of Malawi, where they shared their skills in soap making, organic gardening and in making alternate fuel briquettes.
These briquettes are made out of compressed waste paper and sawdust, and can be used as an alternative to wood and charcoal for cooking – again, saving precious trees, time and money. When we returned to visit thee groups in the fall, we found they had been enthusiastically hand-making briquettes, trying different methods and materials – and so we provided a refresher training, a financial literacy training and 2 new briquette making machines so that they can boost their production and together take their briquettes to the market. We also connected them with local businesses to provide a free source of the waste paper, thereby reducing their production cost dramatically, boosting their income, and reducing local retail waste!
Thanks to the dedicated support of a group of women in New York and California, we also partnered with the soap-making group, the Tickbird Cooperative, to boost their soap-making business. A group of 8 women across the U.S. came together and raised money to protect Tickbird's land with a 10 year lease, and worked hand-in-hand with the Tickbird women over Whatsapp to help them to design new packaging for their soap products. It was a fantastic experience of the power of the women-to-women connection across the globe.
Exploring International Partnerships
During the 2018 summer we also visited women’s groups in Ghana and Kenya that are eager to join the Women Together family, and to share their skills in stove-making, soap-making, briquette making and more! Thank you to Women Strong International, Alice Visionary Foundation Project in Kenya, and Women's Health to Wealth in Ghana for the inspiration and possibilities for future partnership!
So, what’s next for Women Together?
Women as innovators and producers of clean energy technology
We are committed to keep building the production capacity and market for women’s cookstove and briquette groups in Malawi – we will return in early 2019 to reassess where our current groups are, what is needed next, and how best to facilitate the spread of these skills to more and more women across Malawi. As a starting point, we will bring together the Women Together cookstove groups from southern Malawi with the Women Together briquette making groups from central Malawi to exchange their valuable skills and build their strength as trainers and producers. They have been longing to meet, and 2019 is the year!
In 2019 we also plan to hold our first International Women’s Learning Exchange! We will be growing our new relationships with groups in Kenya to help them spread their skill of eco-friendly charcoal production into Malawi. Cookstoves, briquettes, and clean charcoal were born to be together, and so were these amazing women – they can’t wait to travel to each other's communities, to share their skills, make new friends, and form international networks to create positive environmental impact!
Women With Water
We are also hoping that 2019 will be the year we launch a new Women Together program, called Women with Water.
Building on partnerships formed in 2018 with local and international organizations, we will pilot a program in the summer of 2019 that brings groups of women together as “Water Guardians”. Together, Water Guardians will learn the skills to maintain, repair and manage local water infrastructure, such as public water points, pumps and boreholes. They will thereby become the “holders’ of the water for their communities, providing their communities with a priceless resource, providing a income, and elevating the status and the influence of women and girls within the local social structure.
Tackling Gender-based Violence
We are hearing, everywhere we go, that violence against women is rife in our communities. It ranges from spousal abuse, to intra-marital and extramarital rape, to sexual assault of girls in school, to early and forced marriages. Our women are telling us that they have had enough. So have we.
In 2019 we’d like to host a different kind of Learning Exchange – one that brings together communities of women who have been struggling with gender based violence and those that have been working to reduce it. We’d like to create a gathering of women at a community level to share ideas, build solidarity, generate new models for intervention, and commit to support each other in the implementation of programs to reduce gender-based violence in their own communities.
Women Together Global Scholar
In order to accomplish all of this great work, Women Together would like to establish it’s first Malawi-based Women Together Global Scholar. We have been working with a brilliant young woman, Lydia Maseko, who is already mobilizing girls in the school where she teaches to start a Women Together Girls Club. We hope to have Lydia working with us part time throughout the year to grow Women Together programs in Malawi, and to develop her own women's empowerment initiatives.
The amazing energy of all of these women, and the support and generosity of each of you, has made 2018 a hugely successful and fulfilling year for Women Together.
We look forward to expanding the work we have begun, and to creating new and impactful projects together in 2019!