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1 in 3 women is also likely to be a victim of some level of domestic violence, the Ghana government reports.

"We used to have frequent quarrels over money and I would always feel ashamed and useless because I could not financially support our family," says Mariama Alhassan of her relationship with her husband. A member of the Yamah community in the West Mamprusi district of Ghana, Mariama Alhassan is part of SNV’s sesame seed production project improving farm and business skills since 2013.

She is not unlike many women in developing countries where lower levels of education, literacy, and numeracy lead to less confidence and limited opportunities. A 2011 UN Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey reported that Ghanaian women often undervalue themselves and their contributions to the household.

In fact, 1 in 3 women is also likely to be a victim of some level of domestic violence, the Ghana government reports. Issues such as these limit women’s options, their ability to share in decision making, and to invest in and grow their businesses, reports the World Bank.

SNV’s Balancing Benefits approach tackles gender inequality in a targeted way; addressing mechanisms that improve equity in decision making and income share, that enhance leadership and business skills, and encourage women in business. Through SNV’s sesame seed production project Mariama and her community learn improved farming skills but also business and money management skills, empowering both her and her husband to share equal roles in decision making.

Most rural areas lack banks or micro-finance institutions serving the needs of low income farming communities with few assets to use as collateral for loans. This in turn limits investment and growth, making it harder for smallholder farming families to move beyond subsistence. When community members of the sesame seed production project asked SNV help to establish Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), there came an opportunity to facilitate access to finance, especially for women, and bring much needed services to Mariama Alhassan’s rural area.

Through the VSLAs, low income groups can access savings and loans, empowering them to invest in their households and farm businesses. Typically with few assets and low incomes, these schemes are particularly effective for women. VSLAs also organise learning events to help farming families gain business skills required to make decisions beyond crop planting and harvesting.

Through VSLAs, farmers discipline themselves to save money and when they need funds to start a new planting season, they can borrow at low interest against their savings, and repay the money after the harvest.

Mariama has learnt valuable lessons about money, budgeting, and basic business through her VSLA involvement, and the improved farming techniques SNV has supported her with have meant a better income that she can leverage for access to finance through the VSLA.

"I was able to secure a loan of 162 Ghana cedis (44 Euro) which I used to buy seeds and equipment for my farm. I was able to cultivate two acres of sesame and cowpeas this year, thanks to that loan."

Mariama also used her crop income and savings to buy two goats. Their milk improves the nutritional intake of her family, and she sells any extra milk for further income. Just as importantly, this additional income she brings home yields another benefit – it has helped Mariama and her husband value her contribution to the household, and given her more confidence in voicing her ideas and sharing in decision making.

"Now, through the sesame project and the VSLA scheme, I am able to assist in the payment of our children’s school fees, any hospital bills, and also take care of certain basic household needs," She says smiling "There is more mutual respect in our house and we no longer fight over decisions on how money is spent in our family."