'Women do not have to fight against men for their success; there is room for both'

"It's great to see how such a simple project triggers change and makes the entire community stronger." Reintje van Haeringen, Chief Executive of CARE Netherlands explains why she is so passionate about supporting women entrepreneurs.

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We stand for equal opportunities for women and men, and in order to achieve that you often have to empower women", says Reintje van Haeringen, director of CARE in the Netherlands. “We do this because we believe that women have a right to this, but also because we see great opportunities for women. If they are just given a bit of support they pick things up extremely quickly. For example, if you help women to set up their own business they also gain a stronger position in their family and their community. Furthermore women have the tendency, if they undertake something, to ensure that it is also good for their children and their men. So it isn't just an opportunity for those women, but for everyone around them. It is marvellous to see how such a simple project can set in motion a change that makes the whole community stronger.”

In many countries throughout the world CARE offers various forms of assistance in order to make communities in vulnerable circumstances more resilient. This may involve helping people to protect themselves from the effects of climate change, or support in setting up local organisations which offer people a greater voice. It may also be a case of humanitarian help in emergencies. “But whenever we provide assistance we always look at the effect on women. We always ask ourselves the question: will women benefit from this or not?”

Dreams and ambitions

In various countries CARE supports women in setting up their own business. Van Haeringen has many marvellous stories to tell about this. “In Peru we work with groups of rural women who live in an area that is visited by a lot of tourists. When we started the project the women pushed their men to the front, but when we made it clear that we wanted to work with them, they slowly but surely began to come forward. Those women produced coffee, grew vegetables and made souvenirs. With our help they were able to improve their economic activities. A year later those women, who had at first hidden behind their men, came running out of their houses to show us what they had produced. They asked when we were going to talk about the marketing of their products, because they wanted to package them differently to make them more attractive to the tourists. They wanted their coffee to be found all over the world.

Those women were dreaming about their future. In just one year they went from 'ask my husband' to 'I want to go further'. They developed dreams and ambitions which they thought at first they had no right to.” Also in Ethiopia, in the slums of Addis Ababa, CARE got to work with a group of women. They had pooled their savings so that they had their own capital which the members of the group could borrow from. Van Haeringen: “They were powerhouses of women who had just discovered that they had ideas, and that they could also implement these. When they had been going for a few months I asked: what are your expectations from us now? And they said: just let us get on with it, we'll sort it out. As long as you just keep believing that we can do it, because nobody has ever said to us: ‘I think that you can set up your own business’.”

 “They were powerhouses of women who had just discovered that they had ideas, and that they could also implement these."

Those women had set up small businesses: one baked loaves for festive occasions, another kept chickens and sold the eggs. One of the women made a type of broth, which she sold in the hospital. “In that hospital no food was served, and everyone was keen to have that broth instead of food that was bought on the street by family. It was a great success, also because, thanks to her, patients received healthy food. She has taken on staff now.”

It is important in this work to involve the men, says Van Haeringen. “If women set up a business their men have something to say about it. Because those women also have children and housekeeping, and this can lead to friction. So in that case we talk to the women and the men about this change. We ask the man: ‘what are you worried about, what are you angry about?’ Then you get a conversation going between the two of them. If you handle these men and women carefully they will both transform, and their relationships change as well. Those are the nicest things to see. That those women gain more space and that their men see that they benefit from it too. It is a development model that comes about through dialogue. Women do not have to fight against men for their success; there is room for both. I believe from the bottom of my heart: if you could only do this everywhere, then the world would be a very different place".


This article was published on International Women's Day in Dutch newspaper 'Trouw'.  It was written by Renate van der Zee.





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