Female farmers fight back: One union's efforts

A group shot with the lovely ladies behind Specific Union for Farmer Women.

Tucked into Jordan’s greater Ajloun Governorate lies Sakhra, a small village with 1 main street functioning as the town's arterial gateway to side-streets dotted with 2 and 3 story houses. It is here that Specific Union for Farmer Women assumes its modest headquarters: 2 offices, a communal space, a kitchen and a bathroom. And while the space may be prudent, it possesses an uncharacteristically entrepreneurial and optimistic energy, with goods and produce of multiple projects neatly showcased and stacked against the walls. 

A view from the office!
A glance at some of the union's homemade goods.

The Specific Union for Farmer Women was founded by Zeinab Almomany in 2007, and today is comprised of 22 local associations, representing about 5,150 individual women farmers across Jordan. The contributions of each chapter and member are managed by a board of directors, who are elected every 4 years.
 
Zeinab has remained in her post as president of the union since its establishment, during which time the union has tackled issues concerning the agricultural pay gap, health insurance for women farmers, access to finance and the general lack of solidarity around human rights and equality. The first 2 issues, especially, are at the forefront of the union's collective consciousness.
 
In Jordan's agricultural sector, male farmers typically hail from Pakistan and Egypt, and as stipulated by the government prior to visa approval, are contractually covered by their sponsoring employers for health and accident insurance. Jordanian women farmers, however, are not afforded the same right to a contract — something which Zeinab, in partnership with the Jordanian government, has gone to great lengths to address.

Movement on the pay gap, an issue near and dear to the union's heart, is slow. In 2007, a male farmer earned about $24 per day (adjusted for inflation), while a woman farmer earned about $4.25 per day. As of 2018, that ratio has improved — albeit only marginally — to a daily income of about $31 for men and about $7 for women. 
 
While progress has been slow, the union has had its share of successes. For example, it lobbied to redefine eligibility for farmer union membership, broadening eligibility from landowners to include those who rent land. This was an important move given the cultural, legal and religious barriers to inheritance and land stewardship for women in Jordan. With Kiva’s support, the union is also able to internally finance projects, thereby empowering women to employ themselves on their own terms. I cannot stress how fundamental Kiva is to this initiative. 
 
Because Kiva is the Specific Union for Farmer Women’s only source of finance, it is one of the few Kiva Field Partners that post-disburses loans. This means that any loan not fully funded on Kiva is likewise not funded by the union.

For the rural women of Ajloun, Jerash and Irbid, not receiving a Kiva loan means they may totally lack access to finance, or only have access to loans from other organizations at exorbitant interest rates.
 
I had the opportunity to meet with a number of union members, all of whom had nursed and supported their businesses with funding from Kiva lenders.

Negmah, with a loan of about $2,800, invested in 10 beehives, also known as a خلية (a freshly minted word now in my Arabic vocabulary thanks to some charade-esque exercises). Due to the harshness of the Jordanian north's weather, she rotates her hives between Aghwar and Irbid, and will return here in a month or so. She turns a tidy profit through the sale of honey between the 3 markets. 

Nejmah offers me a taste of her acclaimed honey.

Some other loan recipients, such as Samiya and Shaza, deal in plants. For Samiya, she specializes in plants that are considered to have medicinal properties like sage, fenugreek, fennel, ginger, mint and turpentine (identifying them consisted of having leaves and herbs put under my undiscerning and unwitting nose), though she dabbles in all sorts of spices. Shaza focuses on spices fundamental to cooking, like zaatar, sumac and sesame in addition to vegetables like green beans and chickpeas.

Shaza, Samiya and Zeinab prepare for their close-up.
Shaza shows off some of this year's harvest.

As Specific Union for Farmer Women is teetering on its $50,000 credit limit with Kiva, some women wait in anticipation as repayments slowly funnel back. Amina, who is eager to expand her plot where she raises sheep and chickens, will be eligible to post on Kiva as soon as the organization's amount outstanding drops below $47,000.

The union is indeed an exceptional and one-of-a-kind model in the region, bestowing upon women in agriculture a means to self-sovereign governance irrespective of the structural discrimination present in society at large. Kiva, while only one prong of multi-tiered initiatives designed to confront these disparities, is a significant enabler in the union's goals of respect, equality, financial independence and self-autonomy.


About the author

Kerry Frank

Kerry Frank is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a BA in International Studies and a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies. In 2011, she enrolled as a study abroad student at the American University of Beirut, an experience that exposed her to the nuances of the region especially as peoples and governments alike navigated the Arab Spring. Subsequent to her graduation, she returned to Cairo to refine her capacities in Arabic through structured studies at a number of Institutes. In 2014, she joined HIP Consult and, its sister company, Mondato. Her projects spanned telecommunications infrastructure, economics, emerging finance and digitization - all centered around developing markets. As the Media Editor of Mondato, her contributions touched upon cryptocurrencies, financial inclusion, fintech, identity and regulation, in addition to trends within the digital finance ecosystem more generally. She is now excited to represent Kiva as a Fellow, and further build upon her background in consulting and media.  A Kiva Fellowship is an unrivaled opportunity to gain first hand-knowledge in the day-to-day challenges  and operations of microfinance institutions, which are the front-lines in materializing financial inclusion oriented policy.