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Soapmaking collective empowering women in Mali

Women’s achievements are being celebrated this week through a powerful short film about a female-led soap-making group in Mali. The film features a trailblazing co-operative whose microfinance business has created jobs, increased women’s independence and improved community well-being.

 A quarter of Malians – around 4.5 million people – live without access to clean water, and two-thirds – over 12 million people – have no decent toilets. Women and children are particularly affected, with many walking long distances every day to collect water, which limits their ability to get an education or work and earn money.

The revolutionary Soapmakers of Samabogo in Mali are changing this story. WaterAid has been working with the collective to provide clean water and sanitation facilities, as well as training the women in business, finance and literacy so that they can earn a decent income from producing the soap. Training also includes co-operative management as well as business plan development and micro-loan granting.

54-year-old Ruth Diallo (pictured), who chairs the soapmakers’ collective, said:

 I think that when a woman joins this group, she feels empowered. The empowerment of women in this village is very important because when a woman is empowered, when you are independent, you can do many things for yourself.

The oldest group member, Dania Sogoboa, 67, added:

Thanks to the group, there is a connection between the women of the village. We also talk to other villages about our expertise. We discuss together how we can develop ourselves. I was alone, but now I have people to talk to. When I have a problem I can get a loan to resolve it and then later, when I have the money, I can repay it.

 Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid said:

I met the Samabogo women’s group when I was recently in Mali and was struck by the women’s camaraderie as they went about their work. All ages were working together for a common purpose and I was delighted to be invited to make soap with them.

Once a clean water source arrives in a community, women and girls’ time is freed to take up other opportunities – including the possibility of earning additional income for the family. Soap making not only helps provide a bit of extra money but also helps maximise the impact of clean water by encouraging good hygiene. This in turn helps whole communities to thrive.

The Soapmakers of Samabogo project is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have raised more than £10million for WaterAid since 2013. This is transforming millions of lives across Sub-Saharan Africa and contributing to WaterAid’s vision of a world where everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

Photo: c. Wateraid/Guilhem Alandry