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FEATURE STORY May 10, 2021

Empowering Rural Women in Zambia to Move out of Poverty


Sofia Chansa stands in her huge field of corn, which she was able to expand with support from the GEWEL Project.


  • Supporting Women’s Livelihoods (SWL) is providing support to women from extremely poor households in Zambia
  • SWL productive grant equivalent of $225 is positively transforming lives of women in rural Zambia
  • The SWL package offers life and business skills training for women in rural areas to better their lives

LUSAKA, May 10, 2021—The moment Sofia Chansa, 49, received a $200 grant, her whole life changed.

With the money, she was able to expand her vegetable garden—once too small to support her family—to grow enough tomatoes and onions to sell in Tunduma border town. Her vegetable business was so lucrative that she was able to build a house for herself and her five children. She also built and stocked a small grocery store to serve her neighbors in her rural Kayambi Village. Then, there was the milestone she is most proud of since she finished the program; she connected her home to the national electricity grid.

“This is something I never imagined my entire life,” said Chansa. “I have now bought a radio and television set for the entertainment of my household.”

In addition to the grant, Chansa also received training and mentorship as a beneficiary of Supporting Women’s Livelihoods (SWL), a component of the Girl’s Education and Women Empowerment and Livelihood (GEWEL) project. SWL provides women ages 19-64 with opportunities to increase the productivity of their livelihoods, and their economic empowerment, through training, mentoring, peer support, productivity grants and help with setting up savings clubs.

Another beneficiary of the SWL is Karen Mwamba, a 45-year-old mother of three. She lives in Mulola village with her husband in a house that her parents left her when they died.

“I got married when I was 17-years-old, and like most men in the village my husband was a peasant farmer,” said Mubanga. “We survived from the little that we grew on our small piece of land. My husband and I were content with the kind of life we lived until we started having children. We had no means of feeding or paying their school fees.”

With the productive grant she received, Mwamba bought three goats and used the remainder of the money to buy rice, and began selling rice in her rural community. Like Sophia Chansa, Mwamba’s business grew, and she has been able to improve the quality of life for her family.


In general, the levels of poverty in rural areas in Zambia tend to be very high. However, the Zambia Demographic Health Survey of 2013/14 reveals declining levels of poverty the higher the education level attained by the head of the household.

Zambia’s Human Capital Index (HCI) is 0.4. The country’s HCI lags in the region and among other countries in its income group, suggesting that Zambia could make gains in its HCI through better investing in health, education, and social protection reach poor and vulnerable households.

According to the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey, women who earn more than their husband are more likely than other women to be the main decision-maker about the use of those earnings. The $142 million GEWEL Project aims to support the government of the Republic of Zambia to increase access to livelihood support for women and access to secondary education for disadvantaged adolescent girls in extremely poor households in selected districts. The project was approved in May 2015 and became effective in April 2016.

“Assistance to women is being rolled out to 51 districts across all 10 provinces of the country,” said Sahr Kpundeh, World Bank Country Manager of Zambia. “We hope that this support will help the Zambian government achieve better human capital outcomes.”

The Supporting Women’s Livelihoods component  is being implemented by the Ministry of Community Development  and Social Services and has so far provided 75,000 women from extremely poor households in 51 districts across all 10 provinces of the country with livelihoods package consisting of life and business skills training, a productive grant equivalent to $225, mentorship, and support to form savings groups.

Zambia’s national poverty rate remains stubbornly high. Levels of inequality between rural and urban areas continue to rise affecting girls and women disproportionately. With the poverty rate in rural Zambia at 78%, women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable due to lower human capital accumulation.

The World Bank has provided an additional $142 million equivalent to the GEWEL project to increase access to livelihood support for women and access to secondary education for disadvantaged adolescent girls in extremely poor households in selected districts. Out of the $142 million, more than $85 million will be used to cover social cash transfers (SCT) to beneficiaries under the government’s SCT program.