Yilong County is a large agricultural county with a population in the millions. The rural population accounts for 90% of the population. Due to a shortage of resources, lack of transport facilities, and a poor infrastructure, social and economic development is very slow. Over the past 87 years, the county has been designated as poverty-stricken. With the deepening of reform and the problem of too many people but too little land, nearly 20 million people each year migrate outside to find work. In fact, for each family, at least one member is working outside year round. Agricultural production is dependent on the labor incomes of young and middle-aged men. Thus, women have become the primary productive forces in rural areas. However, today's world of equality, peace and development has become the mainstream of social development. The inequality and hardships of women's development have become an aspect of social concern.
After the World Conference on Women in 1995 and with the assistance of UNDP, my county began to work on a project aiming to alleviate impoverished women. The goal is to construct an autonomous organization for women that will promote women participation in the economy and social activities in order to enhance their quality of life and social status. Over the past few years under the guidance of international and domestic experts and the association’s tireless efforts, the project has led to an autonomous organization for women that is full of vitality: the Association for Rural Development in Yilong (ARDY).
I. The Development and Hopes for ARDY
ARDY is registered as a non-profit or non-governmental organization. The Association uses microfinance as a catalyst to join together independent farmers and women and get them to participate in activities. The women have received a certain number of loans to engage in business activities. More importantly, they are able to participate in community activities, technical training, and information opportunities, increasing their self-awareness and confidence in improving their families.
ARDY holds regular meetings for women to strengthen communication between people, allowing them to have a sense of community. They can then better manage center’s activities, care for the Association’s development, and make society’s growth sustainable. In addition, through all the effective activities, women have more initiative to enter the market, understand it, analyze it, and strengthen their knowledge in markets. Slowly, they will move from their households to the market and eventually to society.
Presently, the Association has established a three-tier organizational system to carry out accounting, management, and responsibility for profits or losses. In the county and town together, ARDY has 42 workers, 8 branches, 6355 members (with women accounting for 93.5%), 256 centers for women, and 1271 self-governing groups. The Association promotes democracy at all levels. Over the past few years, women joined ARDY because they needed capital. ARDY hopes to have women join because they want to and bring the true purpose for ARDY into existence.
a. Establish the People’s Ideology and Make it Rooted in the Public
Human development is not only through production development, but also through the integration of opportunities to develop, power, community activities, management, supervision, etc. This kind of progress can not be separated from the organization, and the growth of farmer’s organizations must start from the farmers.
i. Using democratic management as the basis will allow for the participation of all organizations. The Association’s primary management mechanism is Congress. Members of Congress are elected by the various centers and meet once every year as a group. They will report to ARDY their financial and work conditions as well as discuss Secretary General’s work and management. In addition, they will talk about the work plan and changes for the following year along with the Association’s standards and direction.
The Council is made up of 9 democratically-elected members with 7 being women from rural areas. They will supervise the daily work of the Secretary General. The Council meets once every season to listen to the Secretary General report on work conditions and investigate the financial expenditures. This is the core for the Association’s management.
In the daily management of farmers’ activity centers, each center must discuss their standards and elect their own director. Furthermore, they will converse about the needs of the farmers, the work of the supervisors, who to elect as representatives for Congress, and the administration for their center. The center needs to ensure women participation in all levels of management activities.
ii. Change ideas. Amend the positions of the main body and its parts. Handle well the relationship between management and service. All these are tasks of the Secretary General. The Secretary General is elected by the people and can be said to be the founder of the Association. Not only does s/he must encourage women participation but also must create conditions for them to participate.
To do so, the first things are to change one’s own ideas and handle the relationships between management, service, and leadership. When making decisions, s/he must always think in the farmers' points of view and what will benefit them the most. This is why the work done by the Association is under the supervision of all members. All staff members need to be in their rightful positions. They act as organizers and service providers to the farmers, keeping the affiliation between the main body and the parts well in order.
On a further note, the members should discuss the impact the Association has made in their families, production, and individual development during the regular activities. They also should discuss their knowledge on the uses of capital production, techniques, society, information access, and individual value. When talking about who the Association belongs to, who gives the Association its character, etc., the female members will begin to understand what they really need and that the Association is very important. At the same time, they will develop the same ideas by participating together in the same activities and relying on one another.
b. Carry Out Transparent Management to Gain Trust from the Public
Transparent Management has always been one of ARDY’s principles to follow in all activities.
Firstly, on ARDY’s credit management, we emphasize about giving management power to staff members. To release and cycle funds, there are certain standards to follow, such as: has the farmer participated in the association’s activities; how his /her household has developed; how big is the loan; and, has the all the staff members agreed after they evaluate, guide, supervise, and provide services for the borrower. This is a way for women to really get involved and a key to winning trust. At the same time, only through their participation can the supervision of the association be strengthened, frauds be deterred, and permit the efficient functioning of capital.
Secondly, all the credit management fees and approaches must be approved by Congress and strictly followed. The financial expenses for each quarter must be submitted to the members of the board for evaluation. Detailed annual financial payment balances must be reported for farmers to understand how to spend and utilize the management fees they contributed. They are also used to receive the consent from everyone. Both ways will help create the foundations for women’s participation.
Thirdly, the recruitment of workers will also go through the Council. Only by soliciting the views of the farmers in employing workers can the farmers better supervise the work and understand the power of veto.
Fourthly, strict internal management will set up a good image for the Association. ARDY is made up of the masses so image can seriously affect others’ approval of ARDY. Over these years, we worked diligently on our mechanism, system and education to ensure that our staff will think for the people whether in terms of work, speech, or attitude. They have established a good image and earned the trust of the public.
c. Being People-Oriented, ARDY Provides Technical Assistance and Capacity Building
Helping women in poverty receive loans is only one part of ARDY. Over these years of development, following the philanthropy of being people-oriented, we have acquired many methods to provide service. We have given them technique training to enhance their abilities and experience the advantages of being in a team.
i. Taking advantage of trainings, advices, and guidance for day-to-day production.
Firstly, we need to distribute technical data and books written by experts using the basics and in accord with the conditions of the female farmers. We also will take advantage of the regular meetings to hold trainings. Secondly, we need to invite experts to teach the techniques for production during farmers’ holidays. Thirdly, we hope to have the women share their family problems and promote communication among them in order to further collaboration. If there are problems that the center cannot solve, experts will be invited to provide service and guidance. Fourthly, we will promote good publicity. For example, we will inform farmers on how to organize their livestock and about the vaccination of their poultry. Basically, we hope to solve the difficult problems from every household.
ii. Regarding the poverty issue, we have carried out a variety of services.
1. We have sent farmers with some experience to go outside and learn so that there will be models to learn from. We will use their success to affect and encourage other farmers.
2. We have established farmer’s libraries where technical information can be found. These libraries also contain all the audio and video tapes that we buy back for the farmers to watch.
3. To help those women who want to join but cannot participate in the activities, ARDY has acquired a fund of 100 US Dollars to help them attend these activities. This has had significant effects.
4. We have launched trainings for women’s body and reproductive health, which are welcomed by the women. For example, we talk about how females can prevent sickness when their husbands are outside working. Or how a couple can prevent themselves from contracting reproductive diseases. We provide knowledge on basic personal hygiene, sex, and birth control.
Over the years, no matter how tight our budget gets, we always order the magazine “Female Farmers Know-it-All” for all women centers. Everyone thinks this magazine is good.
Our work did not go in vain. Through our years of arduous dedication, our farmers’ organizations for women developed in our non-governmental organization.
II. Results and Effects
a. Association received women’s support. Over the past few years, they have changed their outlook after participating in production development and Association management within ARDY. Some women said that they did not want to just be housewives at home taking care of children and cooking. They also want to enter society and participate in the activities, which are what the Association has provided. They believe that the Association has solved the women’s problems of getting women to participate in society, how to participate, and where to participate. Through all of ARDY’s activities, women have become livelier. They went from considering only their own family to caring for the other families in the center and the development of the association. Step by step, we have guided them toward society to reach a full range of maturity.
b. Giving some basic rights to women is one useful and healthy way for women to improve. In the real world, women in poverty lack self-esteem and self-confidence because they lack material, spiritual, and political knowledge. They are unable to take part in politics or express themselves. They do not believe that they are able to change their environments by themselves. Thus, ARDY has empowered them with basic rights, such as the right to participate, make decisions, and manage. ARDY encourages them to speak out, do things, see things, and change their present conditions by themselves. Through the years, the women in the Association have relied on effective self-governing and the Association’s organization, technique, and economic support to become the women they are today. They are now able to help each other out and independently increase their skills, wisdom, and economic income. The statuses of these women in the families have also been enhanced along with their ability to participate in society. Their opportunities increased. They are more open-minded. Quite a few of them have become social activities.
c. The increasing involvement of women is the cornerstone for the Association’s development. There are more than 7000 members in just four years due to the Association’s effective management and various activities. Over 90% of participating members are women, who continue to stay involved. In addition, 90% of the members believe that ARDY has made them well-rounded, more knowledgeable in techniques, and better at running their families.
d. At the same time of achieving approval from the farmers, the Association is also working hard to improve the internal management. Only with the completion of these two goods could the Association have long-term development. Thus, we need to work on our internal structure constantly and implement strict control. At the end of 1999, the Association managed to establish a more successful financial system, realizing the balance of payments and achieving initial success.
With our preliminary results we have obtained today, all of us will not forget the support from UNDP, experts, scholars, international institutions, and government. Our initial success is based upon our hard work and dedication. We still have a long way to go especially with our management being weak and requiring more changes. However, we are confident that our direction is correct and our future is bright. Our farmers need us. We will continue to strive to achieve the Association’s purposes and ideals under the leadership of the government.