SNV staff contribute to challenging those systems and structures that create or reinforce inequitable development. For SNV, this includes changing the way people perceive and act out gender norms. Not so long ago, it was acceptable to say that the ‘home was the place of women.’ Sacrifice, subservience, or obedience were considered qualities of ‘what made a good woman.’ This is no longer acceptable.

We know that systems are created based on an idea – in this case, a binary conception of gender. Policies legitimise this gendered system and inform how people can live their day-to-day lives. People’s performance of their roles reinforces the system. Nevertheless, systems are not static. They can be unmade.

For the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021, SNV’s Agriculture, Energy, and WASH sector programmes return to the success and leadership stories of women featured by SNV during the last two years. This time, we asked our women leaders to highlight the people – parents, grandparents, mentors, spouses of different genders – who had been key to their success. Through their narratives, we are placing a spotlight on the need for everyone to take part in the call for change and gender equality. Because for SNV, when we choose to challenge – together – we contribute to systems change and create a safe space for all genders to be their full selves: at home and when they step out of their homes.

Gender equality begins at home

Khorik Istiana is leader of the Youth with Sanitation Concern (YSC) in Indonesia. Raised by her grandparents to be independent and take responsibility for her life choices, Khorik decided to serve as a model youth and environmental leader. Under her leadership, YSC has been supporting the Government of Indonesia in its COVID-19 response. Learn more about YSC in this story.

Mukuka Mutale is a faecal sludge emptier. She is the first woman to have entered this profession in the whole of North Zambia. In many countries, emptying work is synonymous to ‘muscle’ and normatively held by men. Her father taught her to follow her dreams. When she chose to become an emptier, her father purchased her first tools. This is her story.

Philomena Kemojumbi Nshangano is a born leader. Growing up, Philomena’s parents encouraged her to take charge at home and in the community. With her husband, she opened their dairy farming business in the late 70s. Now considered a reputable establishment in Uganda, Philomena partnered with SNV to train farmers in turning their businesses into profit generating ones. This is her story.

Healthy and respectful relationships create equal opportunities

Rokeya Rahman is Chair and President of Khulna Bangladesh’s Community Development Committee Federation. She lives and works 270 km away from her family. In some cases, woman leaders like Rokeya are forced to choose between career and family. Worse, they are not allowed by the men in their lives to climb the professional ladder. This is not the case for Rokeya. The distance is a non-issue. The bonds with her husband remain strong. Read how Rokeya is making a positive impact on Khulna’s sanitation conditions.

Rahel Shigella has been running Mama Cookstoves with her husband since 1995. The success of their cookstove business (and its expansion) in Tanzania is largely thanks to a working relationship based on equality and respect. Today, Mama Cookstoves is giving back to the community by building new schools and a health centre. With the support of her husband, Rahel is also teaching vocational skills to women in the community. Mama Cookstoves is among the Tanzanian cookstove businesses featured in an earlier SNV blog.

Jacqueline Baidoo developed an interest in agriculture in junior high. Inspired by the successful large-scale mushroom production business of Mr Bempah, she is interested in innovative forms of farming. This interest has encouraged her to become CEO of Grace Mushrooms Limited in the Ashanti region of Ghana, pursue a PhD, and experiment with recycling sawdust and rice husk to grown mushrooms. Here is more about Jacqueline and her innovative business.

Women lift each other up

Growing the solar market in rural Kigoma Tanzania is challenging but not an impossible task. When Queen of Solar Sisters encountered difficulties, she always knew that she could rely on her Country Director for advice, mentoring, and coaching. Because of her Country Director’s support, Queen did not only manage to hone her skills. She was also promoted from Regional Advisor to Zonal Manager. Read more about Solar Sisters here.

At 25 years old, Kudakwashe Dhliwayo is business owner of Vital Recycling in Zimbabwe. She is a role model to her peers and is helping save the planet through recycling. Varaidzo Majada, her friend and colleague, helped her grow into an effective leader, providing her with the tools and know-how to inspire young people and women in her community. Read more about Kuda’s waste management business here.

Florence Okot has had the privilege to harness her leadership skills through the constant mentoring and coaching of Carla Brokking. When business was not doing well, Carla invested in her business and helped her develop her business plan. Today, Yellow Star in Uganda is making nutrient-rich flour available – sold at half the cost – for low-income households. Read more about how Yellow Start is improving the nutrition and job market for low-income households here.