“Etu Voci”: All together for women’s empowerment Gender issues are still present in Angolan society and gender inequality remains a crucial development challenge that Angola needs to overcome. According to UNCTA the imbalance comes from overall literacy rates and school enrolment that are inferior when compared to men and from the high fertility rates at 5.8 births per women (1) in Angola. Both contribute to reinforce the cycle of poverty, particularly in rural areas where the lack of adequate infrastructure and a shortage of qualified staff are critical issues. These issues are also responsible for the high rates of domestic violence, positioning Angola as 117th out of 145 countries with worse rates in the world according to UN Women (2).
In Huambo, a province located in Southern of Angola, the situation of women in the labor market is quite precarious. One of the main reasons is that Huambo has been greatly affected by the 27 years of Angolan civil war. Therefore, many of these women have lost their husbands and children together with their primary economic occupation in agriculture and trade.
This high socioeconomic vulnerability that those women in Angola are exposed has been taken into account when the Art and Culture Foundation decided to promote women empowerment as part of its core activities. Hence, in 2011 the Foundation created an arts and craft program named “Etu Voci” that aimed to build work capacity amongst a group of women and adolescent girls.
“Etu Voci”, an African-Umbundo word for "all together" was created by an initial group of six women that learned how to use mechanical sewing machines to initially produce their own cloths and their children’s and gradually, products for sale: cover for notebooks and different bags, all of them out of African fabrics. As the training progressed, after a couple of months, this group was able to pass the knowledge forward to six more women. From that point onwards, new women entered into the program and considered that course as an opportunity to learn skills that would definitely support their own livelihood.
With expected relevance and increasing social impact, the Foundation decided this support an entrepreneurship initiative: a cooperative business model 100% managed by women. According to this model, 50% of the revenues from the sale of these articles were turned into monthly wages for its members while the other 50% were re-invested into the business in acquisition of materials and also training new apprentices.
From the model, roles were also partnered amongst both sides. From one side, the Foundation was responsible for providing all the production inputs, offering financial and managerial capacity to the members and negotiating distribution channels. From the other side, the cooperative members were responsible for product delivery and attending the demand deadlines.
Customers were identified at two segments, B2B and B2C. Firstly, a large retail chain in Angola (Kero), in which at least three of its 12 supermarkets sold Etu Voci for its final costumers, Mitrelli’s subsidiaries that used to offer Etu Voci products as gifts for its stakholders during Christmas and other special occasions and in the Angolan International airport souvenir shops. And B2C: handicraft fairs taking place in Luanda every month.
With the success in Huambo Province, Etu Voci has scaled to a second province, Malanje, situated about 400Km from Luanda and the project reached 70 women with ages between 14 to 50 years old that reached an income that varied from 150,00 to US$ 300,00/month.
“Etu Voci” critical factor towards its success was strongly based on the elements of a local cultural identity: fabrics, design, brand and name. All them were made from their own perspective. In addition to this, the working place represented a space for sharing experiences and for mutual support in their common issues.
As a result, an additional bond between the producers and the initiative itself emerged and through this ownership improved dignity and self-esteem as the project was developing. While targeting women´s empowerment and financial independency, through capacity building, income generation and also leading advocacy strategies (with key stakeholders and in communication campaigns), “Etu Voci” contributed to reach some targets of the Goal 5 (Gender Equality) of the SDGs. More in particular, it supported to “End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”, and supported the adoption and strengthening of “policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels”. (3)
Even though “Etu Voci” is still running, the project had some drawbacks after a strong economic crisis that affected Angola in the beginning of 2015. The gradual decline is related to the reliance on a stream of financial resources coming from the Foundation, since the consumer demand proved not to be sustainable along time as expected. This factor was considered by the Foundation as an important lesson learned: it is crucial to enable more permanent funding streams, relying not only on consumer demand and philanthropic capital, but also on other sources of impact investing funds. Fortunately, though the story doesn’t end at this point.
(1)UNCTAD data about women related to trade and development 2016
(2)UN Women. Source:http://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/en/countries/africa/angola
(3)Targets of the Goal 5 of the SDGs source: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs