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During the month of October, we will be highlighting Heifer's work to empower women in a series we're calling the Power of WE. The series began Oct. 4, and many of our posts will focus on women who are becoming entrepreneurs in their own right. Today we continue the series by hearing from one of our own, Petronella Halwiindi, the country director from Malawi.

From the day that she is born to the day she dies, the average rural African woman will never complete her primary education. She will never be allowed to make a decision on if and when she will be married or how many children she will have. The African woman lives a life in which she has little voice, little choice and very few opportunities to realize her full potential.

Decisions about how a young girl is raised, if or when she will get an education even her mother cannot make. She has no voice and no choice when her fate is decided for her… In many African cultures, women are relegated in the community; their voices silenced, their dreams squashed, their wishes buried. The role of women in the family and community is that of servitude. Women serve; women take care of the needs of the family, diligently, but little to no investment is made to help them reach their full potential. The fact that women’s voices are silenced hurts women, it hurts households, it holds back communities, it affects the whole world..

The African woman’s needs have to be met if we are going to make any meaningful strides towards ending hunger and poverty in Africa. She is the bone and muscle that tills the land, harvests the crops, takes care of the animals, even as she takes care of her family, and yet, she has no voice and no choice in how the benefits will be used.

She has dreams, she has hopes and she works hard so that her children will face a better tomorrow than her yesterday.

Heifer’s work in Malawi gives the rural woman hope that even she can have a better tomorrow. Through gifts of livestock and training, she is educated and enabled to realize her potential as an entrepreneur in agriculture. Our work is providing the rural woman of Malawi an opportunity to become an active participant in the socio-economics of the family and community. By building women’s social capital and giving them the opportunity to access productive resources, they are enabled to work collectively as producers and marketers of their farm produce.

By empowering the rural woman with skills and resources that move her from her ‘dependant’ role to contributing to the economics of her household and community, she has found her voice. Her husband, children and community can now see her worth and they can listen when she speaks. She can take a stand and choose for her girl child to receive an education just like her brothers.

Her health and that of her family is preserved. She has access to safe drinking water; she can cook for her family in a decent smoke-free kitchen and she doesn’t have to walk long distances to fetch firewood because she has an energy-efficient stove.

I want to share the story of Joan Zulu, married to Flavious Zulu with whom she has 6 children. They live in Mkhomba Chikwera village in Mchinji. The family received a gift of a dairy in heifer in November 2011, and they called her Tadala (meaning we’ve been blessed). Tadala has indeed been a blessing to Joan and her family… Joan can now afford to have electricity in her house, even piped water. She has become an employer and can afford to pay for extra labor to support her growing enterprises. She has diversified from growing peanuts to being a dairy farmer, and most recently she started a tree-planting business that led to her being identified as one of the suppliers of tree seedlings to a local NGO, Total Land Care.

Her daughter, Tamanda, who is 14 has not been married off, but has gone on to her first year in high-school and expected to graduate before she turns 18.

Joan’s success is not hers alone, she continues to pass on the gift.

Heifer has been helping many women like Joan that now inspire their families and communities. Their voices are being heard, their choices trusted, and they are allowed to take the opportunities that unfold as they continue on their path to realize their full potential.

Halwiindi gave this speech at our Beyond Hunger event in Los Angeles in September. Promote women's empowerment by giving a gift to a woman struggling to provide for her family.  


Annie Bergman

Annie Bergman is a Global Communications Manager and helps plan, assign and develop content for the nonprofit’s website, magazine and blog. Bergman has interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, beekeepers in Honduras, women’s groups in India and war widows in Kosovo, among many others in her six years at Heifer.