Oromia/Somali regions, 22 Oct 2021 – Maryan has 10 children and used to struggle to support them on her limited income.

“I did not know what to do. I wanted a good life for my kids, far from the worries of displacement. I knew I had to do something,” she says.

Vulnerable Ethiopian women like Maryan face many financial and social challenges. They are often poorer than men because they earn less, are not as well educated, and are increasingly becoming heads of households, with limited or no financial resources to support their families. Many have limited decision-making power in their communities. Apart from these challenges, many women already face being displaced due to conflict and climate change.

Maryan now raises a smile when she looks at an apron she is wearing, courtesy of a recent International Organization for Migration (IOM) project, Empowering Female-headed Households Through Livelihood Support in Ethiopia – the apron reads: Every Woman Can Make a Difference.

IOM has helped empower both Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and female-headed households in local communities in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Somali regions by providing access to livelihood opportunities through training sessions on how to establish a business and by making local communities aware of the importance of providing female-friendly work environments. Homes headed by female IDPs are often among the most vulnerable families in displaced communities but thanks to IOM, key partners and the Ethiopian government, these women can now independently diversify their income and find innovative ways to build financial independence.

Trade fairs organized by IOM in the Oromia and Somali regions have given women a chance to showcase their products to their communities.

A woman proudly shows the camels she is able to herd after IOM’s support. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

A group of women selling a variety of goods during a Somali region trade fair. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

 A woman herds goats she is rearing for sale. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

“Our plan is to think of possible income-generating activities from which we can profit and are suitable to this village,'' Maryan says. Thanks to this support, we are now able to pay the household expenses and save money for the future at the same time.”

With generous support from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, IOM provided these women in Somali and Oromia regions with USD 1,400 of startup capital which allowed them to build small shops, trade in livestock and sell meat, among other livelihood options that IOM identified through assessments in the project's initial phase. 

Once they save enough, the groups of women in both regions will provide loans to members in order to expand and diversify the Income-Generating Activities (IGAs). These women entrepreneurs have since diversified their business activities to meet seasonal demands, including selling higher-value products such as fuel and camel milk.

The community gathers to support women selling their products at a trade fair in the Somali region. Photo: IOM/Tsion Gizachew

The Oromia region community turned out in numbers to encourage women selling a range of products. Photo: IOM/Firehiwot Takele

Goats for sale at a trade fair in the Somali region. Photo: IOM/Tsion Gizachew

Products being sold by women were well received during the Oromia trade fair. Photo: IOM/Firehiwot Takele

David Coomber, IOM’s Durable Solutions Expert, says the project is a great example of how the humanitarian-development nexus helps families displaced by conflicts and/or climate change to regain their lives.

“With thousands of displaced families in all the regions of Ethiopia needing similar assistance, further injection of funds from the donor community will go a long way in stabilizing the affected communities, empower more women and families, and strengthen the capacity of the local authorities in providing and managing the basic services, thereby minimizing the potential of future conflicts.”

IOM’s intervention follows a community-based approach where local communities, vulnerable and marginalized populations (IDPs, returnees, women, youth), local authorities, and members of civil society are involved. This process helps to build empowered communities, strengthened support networks, improved social cohesion, improved capacity of community members and structures and local ownership leading to more sustainable recovery outcomes. 

One of the groups IOM is working with is the Somali Microfinance Institute. Through their involvement, the women can make informed decisions on how to save, how to manage their money, and other skills they will need in making financial decisions as a group and as individuals.

IOM’s support to vulnerable female-headed households through access to income-generating activities in Oromia and Somali regions is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Children of women participating in a trade fair gather to support their mothers. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

This story was written by Kaye Viray, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Ethiopia, email:  kkviray@iom.int