Grand Popo, 7 March 2023 – Under relentless heat and in a store filled to the brim with products, Catherine Zinsou is struggling, phone in hand and beads of sweat above her brows, to satisfy her customers. She offers all kinds of food and highly prized handicrafts. The stakes are high: she has to earn as much income as possible to feed her family and pay for her children to go to school.
Catherine is a brave and tireless Beninese woman, married and a mother of two; she lives in Grand Popo, a coastal town located a few kilometres from Hillacondji Town on the border between Benin and Togo. She crosses this border several times a week to buy merchandise to sell at her shop.
Catherine must admit that business is not as good as it used to be; competition has become tough. Coming from a community with its economic challenges, women actively participate in the local economy to provide for their families.
"There are five of us selling practically the same products on the same row of stores. We are forced to share the market."
To differentiate herself from her competitors, Catherine decided to focus on digital payments. She often lost sales when customers lacked cash and she didn't have the possibility to process mobile payment methods. These are especially popular with foreign visitors. Seeing an opportunity and relying on the stable and accessible telephone network in this part of Benin, Catherine resolved to make use of the opportunity. "The mobile payment method is a real plus for me. It allows me to sell my products to foreign customers too," she says.
"It also allows me to solve the currency problems I was facing and, at the same time, to avoid counterfeit bills that are common in border areas like ours. I'm really pleased."
Catherine had to drop out of school at the end of middle school and was never trained in digital technologies. However, her daughter recently introduced her to Facebook. Catherine is enthusiastic and thinks she has found an opportunity to increase the visibility of her business.
"Currently, I don't use Facebook too much, but I think it can help me connect with other women and bring together women traders in my area. In fact, I hope we can be trained to use this tool wisely."
The future looks bright for Catherine, who is part of a women's association that is enrolled in a project supported by the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) "Integrated Border Governance" programme in Benin.
She calls on women to join forces in facing shared challenges. "If all the women get together to find solutions to the problems they face, they will be able to develop their activities and contribute to the development of our beautiful country," she says with a smile.
This story was written by Abdoulaye Mamadou Soukouna, Communications Consultant at the IOM Regional Office for West and Central Africa, firstname.lastname@example.org.