FEATURE: Women’s group boosts resilience in the face of crisis
Mama Jobe Jeng is a farmer in The Gambia’s west coast region and member of the local organisation Tresor Women Warrior. She recounts how belonging to the group has strengthened her ability to cope with COVID-19 and argues that the government should support women’s groups with resources and information in order to shore up community resilience more widely. Hbibatou Drammeh and Ebrima S F. Bah report.
This is the third in a series of stories from ‘Voices from the Frontline’ by ICCCAD and CDKN.
Tresor Woman Warrior is an initiative by women for women. It serves to empower the women of Jalangbang, a small village in the west coast region of The Gambia. The initiative was inspired by Aji Kumba Daffeh Kah, a Gambian woman who decided to help the women of Jalangbang achieve food self-sufficiency through agriculture. She provided them with land and seedlings to grow crops and educated them on financial management. However, when market restrictions were imposed as a result of COVID-19, the earnings from their farm products took a hit and the women were left to their own devices.
Mama Jobe Jeng, a member of Tresor Woman Warrior has been living in the community of Jalangbang for 14 years now. She has dealt with several crises in her lifetime but in no way was she prepared for something like COVID-19. “We depend on the activities of the farm, and the market allows us to generate income by selling our surplus products. But with the pandemic-induced restrictions, we are struggling; and we receive little help from our husbands”, says Mama Jobe. The lockdown left the women with no choice but to concentrate solely on their farms. By doing so, they were at least able to provide food for their families – even if they cannot access markets to sell their surplus produce.
To rise to the challenge of the crisis, Aji Kumba once again came forward to organise the warrior women. When the news of COVID-19 broke out in the media, she gathered all the members of the community and advised them to use water containers or dispensers in their homes for hand washing. “Our institution, with the support of Aji Kumba, branded some hand washing dispensers that were distributed in the homes of the women farmers”, according to Mama Jobe. “These are special dispensers, which are branded ‘The Woman Warrior’”. The group urged its members to be vigilant, wash their hands frequently especially after coming back from the farm and restrict the movement of their children around the community.
“Although we are well versed in undertaking precautionary measures when it comes to contagious diseases, we were not fully aware of the benefits of these measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lesson that makes us more cautious, especially about proper hygiene”, Mama Jobe adds. Notwithstanding Aji Kumba’s support, the women warriors’ continuation of their farm activities and assured family food supplies, income losses were still inevitable because the market is not active, as before.
There have been no measures to support marginal farmers like the women in Jalangbang by the government. “People like us cannot be asked to stay at home and then receive no support to survive”, Mama Jobe emphasises. She stresses that farmers like her understand the importance of staying home, but that without government support to replace the lost income, such arrangements are not sustainable in the long term. The families require some income to buy goods and services which they cannot themselves provide.
Mama Jobe mentions further that community groups such as the Tresor Woman Warrior are playing a vital role in protecting their members and members’ families from the virus, and so enabling them to continue farming in good health, and supporting their own food security. “We are more than happy to share our story with the world so they know that the women of this institution don’t suffer because they are lazy, but because they just do not have enough support to mitigate the problems that this virus brings”, concludes Mama Jobe.
Interviewers’ Perspective – from Hbibatou Drammeh and Ebrima S F. Bah:
“In difficult times, the need for funding to support agriculture in rural villages cannot be overemphasised. The flow of resources and information is key. Information allows communities to know the measures that have been put in place and help them act accordingly.
At the community level, different institutions like ‘Tresor Women Warrior’ can come together and form a union. This will allow them to strengthen their bargaining power and express their needs for support.
Having a strong and lasting network can improve the resilience of such communities in future disasters.”
About the Interviewers
Hbibatou Drammeh and Ebrima S. F. Bah are both members of the University of the Gambia, which is a part of the Least Developed Countries University Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC) initiative. They have participated in research on climate change at the University of The Gambia and beyond. Ebrima is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree from the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences, while Habibatou is a Doctoral student in Public Administration at the University of The Gambia.
About Mama Jobe Jeng
Mama Jobe Jeng is a 34 year old wolof woman living in Jalangbang, a village at the suburb of Brikama in the West Coast Region of The Gambia. She has been living in this community for 14 years and has been involved with Tresor Women Warrior ever since. She actively participated in all the activities carried out concerning the COVID-19 crisis, and firmly believes that empowering women through provision of resources and support will bring out a better future for them.
Read more of the ‘Stories from the frontline of COVID-19’ with ICCCAD and CDKN:
- ‘Lockdown slum style’ – An interview with Sheela Patel of Slum Dwellers International (June 2020)
- Bangladeshi farmers respond to COVID-19 with innovation
Image of productive farmlands in Jalangbang, West Coast Region of The Gambia, courtesy authors