The women in the area surrounding the rainforest of the Lebialem Highlands are some of the most marginalised woman in the world. They grow up knowing they have very little options for their future. These woman receive very little education and are expected to stay in the community and prepare the meals, gather the produce, and raise children.
Through the CRGP Woman's Empowerment Group we hope to help with the education, healthcare, and overall support of the women in these communities. We have been lucky enough to have a common wealth scholarship recipient who is from the Lebialem Highland join our board; with her help we are developing strategies and practices that are sustainable and will improve the day to day lives of these woman and will empower them to have a way forward and a better future.
Prior to the ongoing humanitarian crisis, we were working on a proposal to set up a women’s and pre-school children’s centre as the first phase of the proposed development of the ERuDeF complex in Besali. Whilst this has become a long term plan, we are working with ERuDeF's Centre for Advanced Women's Initiatives to support families by funding school fees, books, uniforms and bags for children that have had to flee their homes.
Rationale for building the women’s and pre-school children’s centre: one of the problems about the proposed developments (research centre, hostel and rangers’ office) is that these measures may not be seen by the communities to be of direct benefit to them. While local labour can build the structures,
the numbers of researchers and volunteers (eco-tourists) visiting the site
– particularly at a time of political uncertainity –
are unlikely to provide much sustained employment and economic benefit to the community.
For the community the rain forest will be seen as a traditional source of food and land for agriculture and the presence of the gorilla will not always be seen as an advantage.
Amenity value: The centre would provide an important amenity for the women in the community, its presence a constant reminder of the support given by ERuDeF. Local people might look with more understanding on the need to protect their forest and to engage in conservation work, once the centre has been set up.
Nature of the Women’s Centre: the centre would provide a place where women could gather in the community, somewhere for them to go with their young children.
It might be possible to run a café and possibly a small kitchen to serve cold drinks and snacks.
For the children a play area with some equipment to keep them amused,
both inside and in the courtyard of the complex, would help make the place more attractive.
The centre might be made sustainable through a small charge for membership.
Once the centre is established, it would be possible to arrange for talks to be given by local experts on topics of interest to the women in the community such as medical matters, how to set up a business, looking after small children, local recipes. There would also be the chance to talk about the rain forest and the presence of the iconic Cross River Gorilla.
The possibility of creating a cooperative based in the centre producing local goods and crafts for sale to visitors coming to the community and also, for sending for sale out to local towns would be
a key element in the successful setting up of a centre of this kind would be for someone to come to explain the benefits of such an amenity and to choose a local person – someone well- respected in the community =to be responsible for carrying out this project with a committee of helpers.
Funding: it might be anticipated that a project of this kind would be attractive to fundraisers, especially those concerned with women’s welfare, particularly if it could act as a model for similar projects being set up elsewhere