Women, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups in rural areas need a dependable way of supporting themselves that provides security in times of crisis and emergency.
In rural areas, poverty is widespread and the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited. It is important that everyone has a secure livelihood for their families, but this becomes more difficult in times of conflict, famine or natural disasters.
SCA supports people as they improve their livelihoods and build financial resilience by providing, for example, training and microloans to develop their own businesses.
The right to self-sufficiency is fundamental and encompasses every individual. SCA targets its efforts especially towards women and people with disabilities. These are groups that, because of values and ignorance, often live outside the community. Women are often excluded from the labour market and are therefore particularly vulnerable when they are responsible for household income.
Afghanistan has been rapidly urbanised over the past decade, but it is estimated that three quarters of the population live and make their livings in the countryside. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the main occupations. Wars and natural disasters have left deep scars in the rural areas. The infrastructure that once was, in the form of irrigation systems, has been destroyed so their ability to earn a living has deteriorated even more.
It is estimated that at least three million Afghans currently live with some form of disability. Half of these are of working age and are largely without any way of supporting themselves. If they also happen to be female, they are doubly discriminated against. Experience shows that the people with disabilities who still manage to support themselves often run their own business, such as small shops or have traditional jobs such as carpet weavers or seamstresses.
What did SCA do in 2015?
SCA supports rural people, with particular priority for women and people with disabilities, by strengthening their ability to support themselves and find sources of income.
Members of self-help groups save money together and lend it out for investments, including for private businesses. The ability to help support the family promotes economic and social status. It provides women who have dependents with more power over their lives and prevents discrimination against people with disabilities.
During the year, self-help groups collected in excess of 1 million afghani, which is the equivalent of about SEK 125 000. This may seem a modest sum, but the majority of people in the country live on less than SEK 8 per day. SCA also offers these groups interest-free loans for start-up businesses.
In 2015 SCA supported 221 self-help groups with more than 3 300 members through local development councils. SCA provides practical training in tailoring, poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making and carpet weaving. Courses in business, computing, sales and marketing and methods for local democracy are also underway. In 2015 more than 550 people participated in such courses, more than half were women.
In order to further strengthen the skills of self-help groups, in 2015 SCA began an exchange of knowledge programme between villages. Members of self-help groups visited other villages to see how they worked with e.g. microloans, accounting, management and business development. Linking the villages to each other turned out to be excellent for exchange of experience and creation of networks for trading.
Activities that cause change
Activities prioritised from a rights perspective have, in many cases, led to increased self-esteem for people with disabilities. After training and interest-free loans they often improve their ability to support themselves. In 2015, women and men with disabilities were able to start their own companies or expand existing operations. Examples of activities that started up during the year include beekeeping, carpet and bag manufacture and small shops.
SCA promotes networking and various forms of partnership for vulnerable groups in rural areas. One example is the network that was formed when 92 female tailors from Dehdadi in Balkh Province merged. The aim was to increase members' income by providing marketing and safeguarding quality and the purchase of good materials.
In 2015 a study was conducted on the impact of vocational education programmes and their effect on how many students actually improved their livelihoods. The study showed that 71% of those undergoing training had found jobs or started up their own businesses.
Challenges and problems
The greatest challenge for SCA during the year was the deteriorating security situation. Some activities have been postponed until 2016 although this was partially due to protracted negotiations between the Afghan authorities, which delayed efforts. Another reason was the Swedish krona's depreciation against the US dollar in 2015. This led to budget deficits and uncertainty about whether funding would be sufficient, and on to redesign of programmes. One result was that 45 savings and loan associations, representing 750 households, could not be established as planned and therefore could neither be trained nor granted loans. Work in this area is still a relatively new operational field for SCA.