Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORYJune 15, 2023

Women are at the Heart of Social Protection Interventions: Real Agents of Change

The World Bank-funded Socio-Economic Recovery Fund in Comoros has been pivotal in empowering women to establish successful businesses by offering both financial and technical support. Beneficiaries, who increased from 4,217 in 2015 to over 35,000 in 2023, also receive assistance like national identity cards, aiding them in accessing healthcare, microfinance, and recognition. The project's aim is to uplift communities affected by natural disasters and COVID-19, while prioritizing women's economic integration.

Hafadhoiti Madi Bounou runs after her goats in the small backyard of her house. The mother of four never expected that her goat farm, which she started 18 months ago, would be so successful. Hafadhoiti is one of the beneficiaries of the Socio-Economic Recovery Fund program launched in 2020 for a three-year period and financed by the World Bank through the Social Safety Nets Project. Along with Hafadhoiti, 10,000 other households in the three islands of the Comoros (Grand Comoros, Anjouan and Moheli) have benefited from the recovery fund. More than 2,000 households have chosen goat rearing like Hafadhoiti, 2,700 are running community groceries, 2,000 households have decided to invest in food production, and 193 households are working in tailoring.

In August 2021, Hafadhoiti received 315,000 Comorian francs, the equivalent of $680, to start her farm. With this funding, she was able to buy three female goats and received technical training on goat farming provided by the program. Today, she has 15 goats, three of which she recently sold to finance her son's university fees.

I’ve always wanted to raise goats because it pays a lot if you take good care of them. But I never had the money or the technical knowledge to start. This project gave me that opportunity. This program has been a lifesaver for me and my family because before we lived simply from farming, I was barely able to get by. Today, with the livestock, we eat well at home and all my children are able to go to school. I even manage to put some money aside for their schooling later on.
Hafadhoiti Madi Bounou

Women are at the heart of social protection activities in Comoros. Comorian society is a matriarchal society: women play an essential role in education, health, child nutrition, and household welfare. However, their economic integration remains limited.

“This is why in each of our social protection interventions, we rely heavily on women to cope with and recover from shocks, as was the case after Cyclone Kenneth in 2019 or during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to make households more resilient. We have put in place accompanying measures and trainings that target women, ranging from early childhood development, assertiveness, nutrition, health, hygiene, and sanitation to financial management within the household. We have also set up and trained mother leaders in the communities to accompany the women beneficiaries through their projects,” explains Julia Rachel Ravelosoa, Senior Social Protection Economist, who leads the social safety net project in Comoros.

Nathirati Mahamoud is a mother leader in the village of Houani. Mother leaders are women among beneficiaries of the program that are elected by the communities to be the link between the community and the program. They receive special training and keep beneficiaries informed about the program’s rules, responsibilities, and procedures including payment schedules and complaint mechanisms. They share advice with beneficiaries on certain topics such as financial education, early childhood development, and health care, among others, through regular meetings and home visits.

As a mother leader in her community, Nathirati regularly monitors her peers to ensure proper implementation of programs. She often visits Hafadhoiti to check on her family and her economic activities.

“I am very proud of Hafadhoiti, she is a determined woman and what I particularly admire about her is that she invests a lot in her children's education. I told her that this is the surest way to break the cycle of poverty. Being a mother leader for me is a true vocation, a contribution that I bring to my community to share my knowledge that I have also acquired through the trainings provided by the project,” explains Nathirati, proudly wearing her mother leader outfit and badge everywhere she goes.

The training offered to the mother leaders is very important in order to better support the beneficiaries,” said Madi Laguera, President of the Houani Village Social Protection Committee, “because most of the beneficiaries have a low level of education and have never received so much money in their lives”.

The project has also provided the beneficiaries with national identity cards. With the national identity card, beneficiaries, in addition to being officially registered in their communes, have easier access to health care and to financing from microfinance institutions. Until now, because of the procedures and costs involved in obtaining one, few people in the Houani village had tried.

Many women in the village did not have birth certificates or identity cards. This project enabled them to start the administrative process to get them,” says Madi Laguera. Hafadhoiti shared “The process of getting a national identity card is difficult and quite expensive for me. I could not afford it. Thanks to this project, I was assisted financially, and I was able to get one. With this card, I was able to open a bank account, I now put all my savings into it, Nathirati showed me how to manage my savings. And with my card, I can also travel freely between the islands without paying extra money, because before, because I didn't have a card, I had to pay 1,500 KMF ($3) extra per trip. And I'm proud to have a card, it means that I do exist!

The Comoros Social Safety Nets Project −referred to as Mayendeleyo in the local language− funded by the World Bank since 2015 with $30 million, operates in all three islands of the Comoros. Implemented by the Comorian government, the project began in 2015 with productive cash-for-work combined with community nutrition programs. Following Cyclone Kenneth in 2019, the project was expanded to include the Socio-Economic Recovery Fund Program, rehabilitation of basic community infrastructure, and cash-for-work activities. The project was expanded to respond to the crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,  adding non-conditional cash transfers.

Its objective is multiple: to improve access to social safety net and nutrition services in the poorest communities and those affected by natural disasters, to restore the level of assets and production of communities affected by Cyclone Kenneth, to rehabilitate and rebuild small-scale community infrastructure damaged by natural disasters, and to support vulnerable populations affected by the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. In the eight years from 2015 to 2023, the number of households benefiting from the project has increased eightfold: from 4,217 beneficiary households in 2015 to over 35,000 in 2023.

“This project has given back dignity to the beneficiaries, especially women, by allowing them to have a national identity, a bank account, taught them to take better care of themselves, to accompany them in their vocation, gave them the means to rebuild or relaunch their income generating activities, to rebuild social infrastructures or even rural roads. Through this project, we see a real social change at the level of the beneficiaries,” says Dr. Daniel Ali Bandar, Secretary General of the Government of Comoros.