Women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia lead the way from poverty to empowerment


 Kebela Guru shows the corrugated iron sheets she purchased to build a new home for herself. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe
Kebela Guru shows the corrugated iron sheets she purchased to build a new home for herself. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

For Kebela Gure, 30-year-old mother of five from the Adamitulu District in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, a good education for her children and an improved family income were the priorities. Today, she is on her way to accomplishing both these goals. She lives with her family in the village of Anano Sheso, where her children can access elementary school. What’s more, she has already purchased materials to build her dream home in the nearby town, where her children can continue their education in high school and beyond.

This is not a small accomplishment for Gure, who had to drop out of school in the eighth grade to work and support her family. She was married at the age of 16 and had her first child when she was only 18. Gure’s husband works as a smallholder farmer and how well his crops do depends on seasonal rain. His income alone cannot feed their extended family of nine, let alone pay for house or schooling for five children.

Recently, Gure’s life took a turn for the better. Through the joint programme on “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women”, led by UN Women, WFP, FAO and IFAD, Kebela Gure has been able to access loans and learn how to diversify her family’s income. The programme, supported by the Governments of Sweden, Norway and Spain, has provided training to rural women in basic business skills and financial management. It has also given them access to small loans at lower than average interest rates.

“After I received a loan for 6,200 Birr ($280), I rented one-hectare land for 2,000 Birr. I purchased and sowed two quintals of the improved wheat seeds. At the end of the harvest season, I sold the wheat to the Meki Batu Buyers and Sellers Union in my village and earned 17,000 Birr,” explained Gure. This was double her family’s average income for the season!

“From my village, I am the only woman who planted and supplied seeds to the union,” she adds.

Encouraged by the results, Gure used part of her income to purchase maize to sell and earn more revenue. She also invested in raising livestock and bought a cart for transporting her merchandise. Gure has also managed to save 2,000 Birr ($90) in a bank account.

Tadelech Bekelpe weaving her hand-made baskets. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe
Tadelech Bekelpe weaving her hand-made baskets. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

In the Dodola District, also in the Oromia region, 38-year-old Tadelech Bekelpe has a similar story. With her husband’s sudden death nine years ago, Bekelpe’s family lost their only source of income. Bekelpe must now provide for her seven children single-handedly. Until she joined the programme, her only source of income was from doing laundry for other people, making and selling araka (a local alcoholic drink) and hand-woven baskets. The labour-intensive work brought in very little income.

After receiving training on basic business planning and implementation and a 6,000 Birr ($272) loan, Bekelpe now raises and sells livestock, a much more profitable business. “I bought six sheep worth 4,200 Birr and also livestock feed. Currently, one of the males, which I purchased for 600 Birr is ready to be sold for 1,400 Birr for the holiday market. Two of the females are pregnant and are expected to give birth after a month,” says a beaming Bekelpe. 

From a hand-to-mouth existence, Bekelpe too has about 2,000 Birr ($90) saved in a bank account. She continues to weave and sell baskets as a side business.

“When I sell the sheep in the holiday market, I will purchase another sheep and save the profit. My long-term plan is to open a retail shop where I will continue to produce and sell my handwoven baskets. The baskets sell for 100 Birr to over 1,000 Birr, based on the size and the style,” adds Bekelpe.

“The stories of Kebele and Tadelech reflect the possibility for millions of rural women in Ethiopia,” says Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union and the Economic Commission for Africa. “Through this joint programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment, UN Women and its partners are transforming societies and demonstrating that with limited financial investments, we can change the lives of rural women and that of generations to come. This is what “leave-no-one-behind” looks like, as we proceed to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Launched in 2014 the programme has benefited more than 2,000 rural women to date and almost 600 among them have their own bank accounts for the first time. The women are now leading efforts within their communities to empower other women to access agricultural trainings and resources to take charge of their own lives and livelihoods.