Holding Families and the Country Together: Providing Scholarships to Improve Gender Equity and Alleviate Hunger and Poverty

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In rural Kenya, the majority of young girls are not expected to complete primary school. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Fridah Mugo and her 13 siblings grew up in a farming family in rural Kenya, where the majority of young girls are not expected to finish primary school. But, in 1999, with a scholarship provided by Winrock International’s African Women Leaders in Agriculture and the Environment program (AWLAE), she was able to complete her PhD in Natural Resources Policy and Management.

Now, with an education and AWLAE’s Leadership for Change training, Mugo is working to address the problem of devastating deforestation in Kenya where only 2 percent of the country is forested—in the 1950’s one third of Kenya was covered in trees. She provides extension services to rural communities dependent on wood burning cookers. Training women to make and use new and alternative energy sources, such as fireless cookers (reed baskets lined with cloth that can be quickly heated on fires to slowly cook food over the course of an entire day, reducing the need for firewood), Mugo is helping prevent the loss of more forest and improving livelihoods.  (See also: Reducing the Things They Carry)

She also lobbies for women’s participation in agricultural development projects in Kenya and other African countries, and founded an education program for young girls, enabling dozens of girls to attend and complete primary school.

But in Kenya and most of sub-Saharan Africa, Mugo’s achievements as a woman are the exception, not the rule. “Women hold their families and country together. The problem is they have no decision-making power and lack access to resources and education. Those who do have resources can make a huge difference,” says Mugo.

Since its start in 1989, AWLAE has presented 570 women with scholarships for advanced studies, helped over 50,000 young girls gain access to primary education, and provided training to more than 100,000 farmers.  The program also provides a network, connecting scholarship and training recipients to each other for support and to exchange knowledge and experiences.

And this support is just as important as the education itself because, according to Mugo, “women are brought up to listen. You’re not supposed to talk. At the training, they taught us that we could achieve anything.”

And, according to a growing number of voices in the global agriculture community, when women are allowed to strive to achieve anything, it is their families and the wider community that benefit. To read more about how empowering women can alleviate hunger and poverty, see also: Feeding Communities By Focusing on Women, Women Farmers Are Key to Halving Global Hunger by 2015, and Panelists Call for Women’s Important Role in Alleviating Global Hunger to be Reflected in Agriculture Funding.

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