May We Know Them...

'Nta nkokokazi ibika isaki ihari'

(Hens don’t crow in the presence of a cockerel)

This is a Kirundi proverb. It’s implication is pretty clear.

In this part of Burundi women routinely bear the brunt of farming labour but are rarely involved in business decisions. Women do the lion’s share of domestic work and caring for children, but might not get a say in their reproductive health. Women might not be trusted with household finance decisions and girls too often get married before they’ve finished school.

It’s a common picture in parts of the developing world but many years of ingrained patriarchy is finally starting to shift.

Burundi is brilliant at growing tea and coffee (accounting for 90% of its foreign exchange earnings), but farming these crops has, until now, been a man’s world.

This incredible group of women have banded together to grow and sell the best coffee they can. Their group has ballooned from 30 members to 140 and it’s now a group led cooperative exporting their produce to the four corners of the world.

Estella Ngiendahayo, the leader of the women growers, said the biggest shift in attitude has been among the women themselves:

“I’m 50 years old and I’ve always heard that the coffee business was for men. But now minds have been changed, not just of the men, but of the women. They know that they can earn this money for themselves. In 10 years, women here will have their proper place.”

This International Women’s Day here’s to Estella and her intrepid gang of never say neverers. We’re celebrating the women on Burundi, and countless others who, through sheer graft, determination and endeavour, are boldy going forth and writing the next chapter for women in their part of the world.

May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.