February 18, 2021

The role of women in integral human development

Romana Koech, AVSI Country Representative in Kenya, illustrated AVSI experience in supporting women at the “Food for Life, Food for Justice, Food for All,” series of webinars organized by the Holy See in preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit in July

This year, the Holy See has organized a series of webinars, “Food for Life, Food for Justice, Food for All,” to contribute to the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit and the pre-Summit, scheduled to happen between July 26-28 in Rome. The webinars draw inspiration from the “levers of change” that will be addressed at the Summit: women, finance, human rights, and innovation.

The first webinar took place on May 17 and focused on “The role of women in the promotion of integral human development.” Romana Koech, AVSI Country Representative in Kenya, illustrated how AVSI supports women to activate a process of self-reliance and community enhancement during the panel “Food and Development: Women and Rural contexts.”

In her speech, Koech stressed the importance of restoring the dignity of and giving recognition to the women living at the margins of the world. To convey this message, she shared the stories of women whom she met working with AVSI.

Romana Koech's remarks

The stories I want to share prove that every woman is capable of putting food on the table and care for their families with dignity and happiness, supporting their neighbors and community, and caring for the environment.

As AVSI, we are pleased to share experiences of women who were supported, accompanied to believe in themselves, to recognize and to be aware of their own dignity, and starting from this point, were able to become independent, to work, to support their children and families and to activate a process of development for the whole community they belong to.

This is a key point: we are interested in the promotion of the single person always connected to a family, to a community.

Women who are well supported are able to foster and strengthen the link person-community with a particular commitment and engagement. Their personal development is a development for the whole community.

the stories

Jacinta is a widow and single mother of three who has been living in the Kibera informal settlement (close to Nairobi) for the last 20 years. When she was enrolled in our project for household empowerment, which includes trainings in parental guidance, savings, and investment, she was running a small grocery business that was on the verge of closing down, especially at the height of the COVID pandemic. She became a member of the village savings and loan association, which allowed her to borrow the money and receive the guidance she needed to boost her small business. She is now able to get money from the business and pay for rent, food, transportation, and even save some money weekly.

Adelide was 27 years old when she fled her country in search of safety. She had a very difficult start when she arrived in Kenya and lost her one-year-old child due to an accident. She became a beneficiary of our urban refugee program, where we seek to improve resilience and coping capacities of the affected population by enhancing livelihood and accompanying refugee women towards self-reliance. Through guidance, she was able to accept the loss and started searching for casual jobs. After joining a village saving group and receiving training, she started her small business and is planning to pursue her passion for tailoring. She feels her dignity has been restored.

As the beneficiary of the AVSI education program, Mercy completed her studies and is currently working as a sales manager representative for an insurance company. She is married with two children and expecting a third child soon. With her first salary, she helped her mother stabilize her income by cultivating produce for consumption and selling the extra, in addition to renovating her mother’s house.

about the village and loan associations

The AVSI micro enterprise groups “village savings and loan associations,” together with education, are key ways to engage and take the journey to recognize the important role played by women in food security. They show how increased inclusion of women in leadership roles and decision-making can help reduce food insecurity.

AVSI works with 144 village savings and loan associations, of whom 85% of members are women. Every year they register a total amount of savings over USD 45,000, which is available for reinvesting and family up-keeping at individual levels.

Groups are formed freely according to proximity, small Christian communities, friendships; a person will join a group where they feel more comfortable. Each association comprises 15-25 members; they save weekly and borrow to invest at minimum interest. 

final remarks

These stories show how women are extraordinary in their ordinariness, how with few resources, they can get lifesaving results. Going forward, there is a need to increase the support towards such works. These groups are not only business-oriented: they are also emotional support groups, entry points for hard-to-reach communities and people.

the webinar series "food for life, food for justice, food for all"

The three-part series will address how the new concept of integral ecology, which focuses on the interactions between eco and social systems, could prompt a regenerative change in food systems in the post-COVID future. Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, it will showcase the role Church actors can play in this process and amplify voices that are often ignored, such as those of women, indigenous communities, small-scale farmers, and so on.

While the first webinar focused on the unique role of women leadership, the second will explore the impact that dignified work, finance, and innovation could have in building sustainable food systems. The final webinar will elaborate on the conclusions drawn during the two previous ones and bring up the topic of hunger and food inequality, linked to the contributions of the Church to this matter.

The UN Food Systems Summit

In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems.

The Summit will bring together key players from many different fields (science, healthcare, youth organizations, indigenous groups, environmental activists, etc.) to work together and generate positive changes.

related stories

Follow Us