Cameroon - UN Women's Gender Road Project
Mereng Alima Bessela, age 50, is a successful entrepreneur from Ntui, in the Central Region of Cameroon. She is a cocoa farmer, which is traditionally farmed by men, has her own restaurant business and a fish farm. Like thousands of women in the region, Madame Bessala has no lack of acumen, but needs access to skills, markets and finance. Meeting these needs is at the heart of a UN Women project funded by The Development Bank of Central African States, implemented in communities living along a road that is being built between the townships of Batchenga, Ntui and Yoko. The project is providing training on business management and other skills to women farmers and entrepreneurs, facilitating their access to public services and preparing them for opportunities to grow their businesses once the road construction is complete. The “Gender Road Project” aims to empower at least 20,000 women living in this area.
A 200-kilometre road (124 miles) project stretches between the townships of Batschenga, Ntui and Yoko, in central Cameroon. The road crosses farms, forests, water bodies and pastoral areas that sustain the mostly agrarian economy of nearly 40 villages and three towns.
The road, a basic infrastructure that many countries take for granted, literally shapes the lives and livelihood of the people living along it. It decides whether a small entrepreneur will get her products transported on time, and at what cost, and whether more people will come to a restaurant that another has invested in. It determines what markets a woman farmer can access and how often a working mother can visit her daughter who is studying in the city. The red dirt road, waiting for asphalt, will determine if food, income, job, healthcare, livelihood will come, when, and to whom.
UN Women’s “Gender Road Project”, funded by The Development Bank of Central African States and the Government of Cameroon, is aiming to reach at least 20,000 women by 2020, living in rural communities along this road, to prepare them for a better future and access to bigger markets once the road is built. The project teaches them financial and entrepreneurial skills, improved farming techniques and facilitates their access to public services and land rights.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown