February 2016

Walking in New Shoes: How Ethiopian returnee women are avoiding unsafe migration

On the fourth floor of a dilapidated building in a compound set back from a busy Addis Ababa road, the sound of whirring from a sewing machine vibrates between the wooden partition walls of a small workshop. Here, Arsema (*not her real name) hunches over the sewing machine carefully feeding strips of navy suede under the needle. She is making a pair of sandals, which she will soon add to the growing collection hanging from the rack on the wall.

Arsema is a participant of Hope for Children’s Women and Child Livelihood (anti-trafficking) Program, which rehabilitates women who have been exploited in Middle Eastern countries as a result of unsafe migration. The Women and Child Livelihood Program works with between 100 - 150 vulnerable returnee and at risk women in Addis Ababa each project year.

Arsema spend 2 years working in Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker. She worked in a large house for an Arab family who treated her as a second-class citizen. She rose at 6am and slept past midnight. She was verbally and physically abused and was not paid fairly. In 2013 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a crack down on undocumented workers, and Arsema was deported back to Addis Ababa. For many months she emotionally vulnerable, unable to find work and at risk of re-migrating. In 2014, Arsema joined Hope for Children’s Women and Child Livelihood Program. 

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Production time: Four of the women from Andinet display their shoes behind one of the work benches in their workshop.

She joined a Self Help Group, Andinet (meaning ‘unity’) where she bonded with 6 other women who had been through similar abuse in Beirut, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Some of these women have spent up to 8 years abroad. The women were taught how to save small sums (5 birr/ 20 cents) on a weekly basis, incrementally increasing the amount they saved throughout the year. During this time, the group received ongoing trainings to build capacity within the group: basic business skill training, book keeping training and life skill training, all conducted by HFC livelihood officers. After just 8 months, the women had saved enough 1900birr capital between them and produced a business plan to manufacture women’s shoes. HFC provided 75,000birr ($5000AUD) seed capital to assist the women to make theyr business plan a reality. 

The group received working space from the Government of Ethiopia’s Micro Small Scale Enterprise, enabling them to rent a small workspace in a large building used for micro business production. It is located in a busy inner city area in Addis Ababa. The group then set about purchasing all necessary equipment for leather production, using a loan 35,000birr ($2300AUD) from Addis Loan & Savings Institution. 

Hope for Children recognised the determination and commitment of Arsema and the other women in the Andinet self help group through the Business Competition Award program, hosted at the end of the first project year. The group was awarded rolls of leather to the value of 12 000birr ($800AUD) to kick start the production of shoes.

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Sparkly: A prototype pair of Amen shoes made by women in Andinet self help group.

Flash forward five months, and Amen shoes has made a splash in the local market. The women have sold over 150 pairs of individually crafted handmade shoes. They have created market linkages with local bazaars (including a popular Christmas bazaar), Mercato - the biggest open market in not only Addis Ababa but the whole African continent, and are selling their shoes in upmarket malls across the city. The market entry price for shoes was 150 birr ($10AUD) but the women are adjusting their business plan to increase the price to ensure sustainability of their new business.

Andinet is the fastest growing and most motivated group of women of the 7 Self Help Groups which were formed in Year 1 of Hope for Children’s program, highlighting just how the grassroots intervention program is directly changing the lives of the most vulnerable women for the better.