This International Women’s Day (March 8th), an international animal welfare charity is celebrating its role in a successful project, enabling a group of very poor women in Bangladesh to increase their income using donkey power.
In keeping with the theme of this year’s event, “Empower rural women – end hunger and poverty,” the project supports women in three remote, almost inaccessible villages in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, by helping them grow crops which they can then transport to market using donkeys. It is a collaboration between the American NGO Helen Keller International and The Donkey Sanctuary.
Key to the success of the project is the training provided by The Donkey Sanctuary to ensure that the women were trained and equipped to care for the donkeys and work them in a way that safeguards their health and well-being.
During the initial training in August 2011, vets from The Donkey Sanctuary’s project base in neighbouring India worked with the women to teach them donkey care, developed harness suitable for the loads the donkeys would be carrying, and trained local animal health workers in treating donkeys and preventing common illnesses.
Vets Surajit Nath and Ramesh Kumar from The Donkey Sanctuary India revisited the project in December and reported that it is a success, with the women benefiting from having donkeys as transport, and looking after them well.
“They said the donkeys were an asset to them and were happy to have them,” said Ramesh. “They now wish to have more donkeys in their villages.”
This is just one example of the role donkeys and mules play in improving the quality of life for women in developing countries, and progressing towards the Millennium Development Goals of gender equality and poverty alleviation, through improved access to markets and freeing up time for other activities including education.
Director of International Operations, Stephen Blakeway, said: “This project highlights the fact that donkeys are, and need to be recognised as, productive and sentient members of the community. In this globalised world, we all have a responsibility to ensure local access to the knowledge, skills and services that can safeguard their health and welfare.”
The Donkey Sanctuary works closely with very poor communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Egypt and Mexico, in which the donkey is often a family’s only mode of transport. Without it, the job of carrying water, firewood, farm produce and other daily essentials generally falls to the women of the household. Studies have shown that having a donkey enables women to take part in other income-generating activities. The lighter workload also improves women’s health and helps them play a bigger part in their communities, as they have more time to participate in meetings and contribute to local decision-making.