Jacinta Dickson runs one of the only women-owned cassava processing facilities in Cross River State, Nigeria. The 32–year–old is empowering other women in her community and showing them how they don’t need to practice traditional gender roles.
Cassava is widely cultivated by young women and men in most communities, but the processing of the root vegetable is a male-dominated trade. Women tend to shy away from cassava processing due to a lack of experience in operating the equipment.
Jacinta was determined to shatter that barrier. She learned how to operate the required machinery and launched her own cassava processing business.
“I grind, press and fry cassava in my factory. Other women can do the same if they put their mind to it,” she says.
Her journey started while participating in Cuso International’s YouLead (Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development) program. Jacinta’s instructor told her to look around her community, identify a problem and find a money-making business solution.
She realized that most people were processing their cassava in small pans or using local equipment—a time–consuming method. With her new mindset and training, and support from her family to rent land, she was able to raise enough money and gain the necessary skills to open her business.
Cultural expectations to stay at home and tend to their families often prevent women from participating in the business supply chain. But many young women are now stepping forward to combat these gender expectations.
Emilia Okon, Cuso International’s Gender Equality Officer for its YouLead program, has been advocating for gender equality since participating in a leadership program at 14 years old.
“We talked about women’s empowerment, what barriers we were facing as young girls, and of course, how we could overcome them and be persistent and go beyond what society was offering us,” says the now 36-year-old. “That opened my eyes to all the possibilities that a young girl could be.”
With Cuso, Emilia ensures a gender perspective is integrated throughout the YouLead program. This includes finding ways to work around challenges that affect women and other marginalized groups.
“We have quite a number of women who can’t read and write. We came up with a strategy to ensure the applications are simple enough for them to access or we walk them through the application. We come up with different approaches just to ensure that no woman is excluded,” she says.
As Jacinta’s business grows, her success is having a ripple effect on her community. She has hired other young people to work with her, and the reduced processing times means she can sell more cassava and she and her employees earn more income for themselves and their families. She’s also taken steps to ensure her processing factory doesn’t pollute the environment.
Participating in YouLead started Jacinta on a path for success and she encourages other young women to not limit themselves based on their gender.
“I am grateful to Cuso International for leading me in the right direction,” she says. “I gained self-confidence during the training and it pushed me to start the biggest cassava plant in my community. I advise women not to be limited by cultural expectations of what a woman can or cannot do.”
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