‘Why are you girls always going to the toilets together?’ already the boys in our Dutch highschool used to ask us. And apparently this is an universal problem: recently I read in the Ugandan national newspaper a column of a man who pondered about the same question (and gave a – to me clarifying – explanation of how man see going to the toilet as something that requires focus and should under no circumstances be disturbed by talking: go, aim, do you thing and get out).
What is it with women that they always need to sit together in groups and talk? In the Netherlands we have nicknamed it ‘thee kransjes’, were ladies can sit for hours and drink tea and gossip or chat about personal issues. Women like to move in groups to go to sports, to do shopping, to go the sauna, etc etc.
And (traditional) Uganda women are no exception. They find reasons to leave their busy households, kitchens and farms for a few hours to come together to do crafts, make music, preparing cough-drinks from local herbs, and many others activities. Many of those groups also have as sole or side activity what is called ‘village saving groups’: every week everybody deposits a small amount of money, and the total sum is given each week to another person, who then can do a (small) investment.
Developing the dairy sector in Uganda has mainly been involving men (who own the cows and milk them) and the youth (who transports the milk on bikes or are employed at the milk collection centre). However, introducing yoghurt making among dairy cooperatives has brought the women on board. It has ‘all a women wants’: food preparation, group activity, long waiting times while the milk is heating up or cooling, not so much bound to a specific time of the day or week, income generation, creating something of their own, something to be proud of.
For the success of a business or activity that involves several people, social capital is as important as for example physical capital (e.g. pans and packaging material) and human capital (e.g. knowledge on yoghurt making). Social networks have value, and social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.
As a project leader for Yoba for Life, I try to build social capital between me and the groups, by spending more time with them then strictly necessary for the work, being interested in their personal life and staying at their homes. I feel that this is even more important since I am a (white) foreigner, which might naturally creates some feelings of distance and inapproachableness.
However, that is as far as I have gone so far. One group stopped production because of ‘disagreements’ between the ladies. Because as strong as women groups can be in their bonding and their collaboration, all of us women also know how we can fight each other, often over small issues that might have kept on adding up over time. Interfering in intergroup issues between ladies? I do not want to get myself involved catfights.
Ps: I recently called my contact person in that group, who said they have solved the issue among themselves and are ready to start production again any moment.