Empowering Women and Teaching Healthy Habits in Nigeria

By Martha Bolanos, Unilever, Regional trade marketing manager, Customer Development, South America

I am blessed to have been raised with so many mentors who guided and motivated me to embrace my talents. Now it’s time for me to give back and help other women and their families.

A year ago, I applied to become a Unilever Foundation Ambassador because I realized I had spent too much time complaining about the social problems in my country, El Salvador, yet had done nothing about them. At the same time, I was inspired by three Salvadorian entrepreneurs. Two of them were giving young people and women the chance to earn a fair income by developing their craft skills. The other was my father who set up a non-profit organization that gives low-income women access to loans, advice and support to start their own businesses.

Women are the main pillars of family life and strong women build strong families. They are the ones who can break recurring cycles – such as early pregnancies and gang inclusion – and provide better opportunities for their children.

As a Unilever Foundation Ambassador, I visited the Sunlight Village project in Nigeria, which Unilever supports through its partner Population Services International (PSI) and its independent network member, the Society for Family Health (SFH). Visiting Africa was a wish come true. I have always been intrigued by its culture, traditions, wildlife and crafts.

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Courtesy of Unilever

During our first day, I met the Unilever team who took me on a trade visit where I got the chance to talk to our general trade customers who sell our products. The market reminded me of the wholesaler marketplaces in the northern part of Central America.

During our second day in Ibadan, I was able to see our ‘Gbemiga’ women’s programme in action. This is a Shakti-type initiative where women sell Unilever products door-to-door in rural areas of Ibadan. I talked to some of the women involved and they told me that, before joining the programme, they didn’t have a source of income at all. Now they are able to provide for their families and improve their standard of living.

I was also able to learn more about Unilever’s initiative to work closely with our partners to transform communities by teaching healthy habits such as hand-washing with soap and oral hygiene. We often take these things for granted, but in a country where diarrhea is a leading cause of death for children, it’s invaluable to teach mothers that the simple act of hand-washing with soap can help prevent their kids from getting sick.

We have a long way to go, but I believe that every time we teach a mother about hand-washing or empower a woman through our Gbemiga programme, we are taking a huge step towards providing opportunities to make a brighter future.

As members of the Unilever family, we are all blessed with great opportunities and talents and there hasn’t been a better time to share them with others. For my own work, the company’s women’s empowerment programme will be one of the most important pillars of our Sustainable Living Plan in Central America. This year I am happy to say that our empowerment journey has begun with the Shakti ‘Mujer con Poder’ programme deployment in El Salvador. This initiative will be life changing for so many women and families and, perhaps most of all, me.

This post was originally published by Unilever.