“I have never held more than the money for a box of matches in my hand.” These words, softly spoken by an 18-year-old Zimbabwean woman, describe the absence of money in her life, aside from its role in creating conflict and anxiety at home. She spoke at a Camfed workshop held for young rural women who had just graduated from secondary school to help them seek solutions to the lack of productive livelihoods open to them in their rural area. Her words were her starting point, and they needed to be ours.
Camfed is an organization founded in 1993 and dedicated to the advancement of rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa by investing chiefly in the education of girls and the strategies that grow their leadership and status.
Young educated women living in poor communities are Camfed’s teachers. They are members of a vast group whose potential to transform their own lives—and those of their families, communities, and nations—is limitless. Programs that are built on listening to and learning from such women have the best chance of achieving progress. This paper describes Camfed’s journey of investment in designing, implementing, and measuring programs to achieve the financial inclusion, with all its attendant benefits, of young rural women in five countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
In 1999, Lucy Lake1 and I, along with the first four hundred secondary school graduates of Camfed’s program in Zimbabwe, launched Cama (the Camfed Association). It was designed as a rural membership organization and support network to extend into young adulthood the friendships these women had made during their secondary school education. At the program launch in Harare, young women graduates from all participating districts came together and recognized, for the first time, that they were a national presence. Over three days, the members designed their organizational structure, including the process for selecting officers. They elected the first Cama chairperson, Angeline Murimirwa, who is now executive director of Camfed Zimbabwe and Camfed Malawi. The members decided that Cama would be an organization of young women united by a background of rural poverty and a commitment to improving lives in their communities. Today, [End Page 219] Cama has 19,550 members across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, and Tanzania and will launch in Malawi in September this year. It is a unique and powerful movement for social change.
Let’s briefly remind ourselves of the imperative for finding solutions for young rural women. The 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report published by UNESCO points out that, in 2030, “there will be three and a half times as many young people in sub-Saharan Africa as there were in 1980.” This stark prediction underpins an urgent call to invest in African youth and their development of skills. Moreover, the crisis is already upon us: globally, young men and women are bearing a disproportionate amount of the pain resulting from the 2008 financial crisis. Lack of work is an endemic problem that predates the financial crisis in the context in which Camfed works, where young rural women have the fewest employment opportunities on leaving school.
The young woman whose words informed Camfed’s search for solutions was participating in a workshop with 24 other secondary school graduates. All the participants were from poor rural homes, and Camfed had supported them, financially and socially, throughout their secondary schooling. We had recognized the dearth of safe livelihood options they faced as they made the transition from girlhood to adulthood, and we were seeking ways to support their aspirations. The young woman’s courageous articulation of the extent of her poverty opened a dialogue at that workshop in which every participant spoke of a level of poverty that made each acutely vulnerable to exploitation of every kind.
The combined impact of sex and gender compounded this vulnerability. The young women had inherited a sense of familial responsibility from their mothers and were deeply aware of family insecurity; early marriage and paid sex were the most readily available ways of securing cash, yet also the most personally traumatic and dangerous. The data on HIV/AIDs...