Poor farmers and pastoralists in Ethiopia are often excluded from decision-making processes. This is particularly true of women and young people. Their voices are rarely heard. Their needs and circumstances are seldom taken into account when action plans or legal instruments are shaped. The establishment of various kinds of grassroots organizations, such as savings and loan groups, local forest groups and cooperatives, an important part of the Development Fund’s work is. Such groups offer arenas where challenges may be discussed and solutions found to how they best may be met. They also give participants a common voice and increase their bargaining power. The forest groups are particularly important, since they strengthen the forest people’s rights to the forest, and ensure transparent and democratic REDD+ processes.

Ethiopian women experience daily that their rights are not respected. They have poor access to and control of resources, few income opportunities and poor access to credit. Many women are subjected to systematic violence and abuse, including genital mutilation. It is mainly women who are responsible for fetching water and gathering wood, as well as cultivating the earth, making food and doing other household chores, and taking care of children. Few women have the opportunity to participate in meetings outside the home, and they therefore have limited access to information about events in the outside world, and limited opportunity to express their opinions and influence decision making. The Development Fund has very good experience with savings and loan groups, or designated women’s cooperatives, as instruments to strengthen women’s rights. Through these groups, women acquire a room of their own where they together can exchange experiences and talk to each other about their problems. By starting small companies, the women acquire their own income and also contribute to the household’s economy. This gives women an opportunity to show what they can do, and in many cases leads to increased respect, both at home and in general in the local community.

Through Operation Day’s Work, the Development Fund supports efforts to organize young people, particularly girls and young women. Through the so-called “Young Women Can Do It” clubs, girls and boys become more conscious of their rights and work actively to heighten consciousness among other youths. Not least important is heightening consciousness among boys and young men of gender-based discrimination and questions of equality. In the clubs, young people can talk about abuse, early marriage and genital mutilation. The clubs are organized both at schools and outside them.

The Development Fund seeks to enhance consciousness of equal rights in grassroots organizations and among our local cooperation partners, and to increase their capacity to integrate an equal rights perspective into their work. This applies to everything from equal rights perspectives in projects, to the strategies and bylaws of the organizations themselves. We use one of our local partners, Women’s Support Association (WSA) as a resource in this work, and they contribute training of other partners.

Ethiopia has a diverse population. In several areas there are minority groups that have traditionally been marginalized by the majority. We take pains to integrate minority groups in grassroots organizations and project activities. This is particularly important in forest management, since many minority groups are completely dependent on the forest to survive. Minority groups are organized on a grassroots level and included in forest groups and cooperatives on a county or district level.