Rubia promotes women’s empowerment through literacy, education and income generation from the sale of their heritage handwork. An American scholar started Rubia as a grassroots embroidery project in Pakistan in the year 2000 when desperate Afghan refugees asked her to help them find a means to earn income. These impoverished embroiderers, who belong to the minority Pashai tribe, continued selling their handwork through Rubia when they returned to their homes in Eastern Afghanistan when the Taliban was overthrown after September 11, 2001. Over the past 14 years, Rubia’s literacy and embroidery projects have grown, in spite of worsening poverty, increasing insecurity, and a rise in Islamic fundamentalism. All aspects of the development and implementation of Rubia’s programs are rooted in local culture, using community members at all levels to help build the economy and capacity in their home region. Most recently, 600 Afghan women participated in “Threads of Change,” a curriculum that integrates health, human rights and literacy with handwork. In 2007, Rubia spread to Manchester, New Hampshire in response to the needs of impoverished refugees from Central African who had fled the genocide and were trying to rebuild their lives in the US. “Sewing Confidence,” Rubia’s American program, has expanded over the past five years to include financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Rubia is considering expanding its work to other countries, including Mali.
Definition of Problem
Mali is undergoing a painful transition, after it imploded when a 2012 rebellion of Islamists and Tuaregs in the north interrupted a decade of peace and democratic rule. The August 2013 election of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who ran his Presidential campaign on a pledge to restore Mali’s dignity, offers a hopeful moment for this battered West African nation. This project offers an opportunity to assess whether the Rubia model combining income generation with education that was developed for women displaced by conflict in Afghanistan and New Hampshire literacy is relevant to post-conflict Mali. With Mali’s rich tradition of making beautiful textiles, especially its world-renown mud cloth (bogolan), there may be opportunities for Rubia to engage in Mali at this critical moment in its history.
Initial Steps and Options
Rubia has tested its integrated model of women’s empowerment through a combination of literacy, handwork, and income generation in two sites. A DAT can assist Rubia to determine if there is a demand for a similar approach among women surviving conflict and displacement in Mali. The DAT would start with an analysis of Mali’s political, economic, and socio-cultural environment. Specifically, it would seek to answer the questions:
- What contextual factors would favor the adoption of the Rubia model to Mali?
- What contextual factors may inhibit the adoption of the Rubia model to Mali?
- In light of the your response to Question 2, what interventions would you as development practitioners recommend to mitigate these inhibiting forces?
- What aspects(if any) of the Rubia model— income generation, literacy, health education, or preservation of heritage textiles— do Malian women need the most and which would you start with? (They are not mutually exclusive.)
The team would also explore possible partner organizations that may be currently working with Malian women on education and income generating, preferably through the sale of their traditional textiles. Some team member or members should be able to work in French.