“There is not a woman born who desires to eat the bread of dependence, no matter whether it be from the hand of father, husband, or brother; for anyone who does so eat her bread places herself in the power of the person from whom she takes it.” — Susan B Anthony 1820-1906 American women’s rights activist
It was a befitting coincidence that the launch of the Gender Challenge Fund was held at Lehakoe Club on February 15, the same date when American women’s rights activist, Susan B Anthony, was born.
Her words, “Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women!” were quoted by Dr Gene MacDonald, the resident country director for the Millennium Challenge Corporation in her speech during the launch.
Dr MacDonald praised the work that the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Lesotho has done since the enactment of the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2006, including an outreach programme which reached 750 000 men and women across the country.
She gave an insight into her own struggles as a young girl, as she sought to study and pursue a career of her choice.
She advised that if anyone tells a girl or boy that their dreams are not possible, we must ask, “Why not?”
The Gender Challenge Fund is the culmination of a year’s preparation and is a partnership between Pepfar (the United States President Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) and MCA Lesotho Gender Programme.
“The day we have been waiting for has finally arrived,” said Sophia Mohapi, the CEO of MCA Lesotho.
She stated that the time has come for women to put into practice the principles they have learnt by establishing their own income generating projects.
The Fund, pegged at US$600 000 (M4.64 million) of which half will go towards training, is structured in such a way that it builds on the work the MCA has done in training women.
Initially, potential beneficiaries will be drawn from approximately 750 women who benefited from MCA workshops.
The women are being encouraged to submit innovative proposals so that diverse industries see an increase in activity.
Ambassador Michele Bond, who heads the US Embassy in Lesotho, assured the audience of “the US government’s support for gender equality and economic development in Lesotho”.
She recalled US President Obama’s words: “In the US and around the world, we will not rest until our mothers, sisters and daughters assume their rightful place as full and equal members of a secure, prosperous and just world.”
One could see the launch was one of the many manifestations of that declaration.
The Fund is a “challenge” in a way, she explained because the women will be expected to match 10 percent of the grant amount with their own cash, labour or material.
A portion of the profits will be reinvested into community programmes such as those fighting HIV/Aids.
Ambassador Bond made the interesting point that this empowerment programme comes during the year in which Lesotho is one of 10 African countries on the UN Women executive board and is number nine in the Global Gender Gap rankings.
The Fund adds to Lesotho’s commitment towards gender equality.
“We are fighting to empower our women economically,” said Hon ‘Mathabiso Lepono, the Minister of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation, as she went on to pledge her personal support to ensure the Fund’s success.
She added that this would be a continuation of her 33-year involvement in women’s empowerment and she concluded by declaring the partnership officially launched.
It is well documented that empowering a woman is more likely to result in a direct benefit to the family and it is anticipated that this scheme will be no different.
This is just the beginning; I can foresee the mammoth task ahead which involves vetting proposals and more importantly making sure that the donor funds are put to their intended use.
Given the time that it took to structure this grant scheme and the knowledge that has been gathered in working with the women at grassroots level, I can say the MCA Lesotho and Pepfar teams are up to the task ahead.