Tag Archives: women empowerment

COVID-19: Bright colours to ‘soften the pain’



Mounia Lazali, is a professional designer and a painter based in Algeria. Like, others around the African continent, she is playing her part in helping contain the COVID-19 pandemic. With many countries facing face mask shortages, Ms. Lazali is sewing hundreds of them using colorful fabrics to donate to fellow Algerians. She spoke to Africa Renewal’s Franck Kuwonu about her initiative:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Mounia Lazali and my artist’s name is MYA. I am 43 years old and I live in Algiers, the capital city of Algeria. I am a graduate of the École supérieure des Beaux-Arts (College of Fine Arts) in Algiers and the University of Language and Culture in Beijing, China. I’m also a professional painter as well as a textile, furniture and graphic arts designer.

When did you start producing face masks?

I started making face masks on 18 March this year. I remember that day because immediately I made the first batch, I published a photo of myself wearing the colourful face masks on Facebook. I like to share all my creations instantly on social media networks because I find it an interesting way to interact with other people, raise awareness about something and to share creative content.

What drove you to making the face masks?

My whole life revolves around beauty and aesthetics. Personally, I did not want to wear the usual surgical mask at this time of confinement because it reminds me of difficult phase of my life where I was sick for a long time and had to wear one. So, I thought that the colourful textiles I use for my designs could help soften all this fear and pain around this pandemic.

I had gone to China for my studies a few months after the end of SARS. That allowed me to adapt quickly to the hygiene measures prescribed, including wearing face masks. I remember that masks were worn during periods of great pollution too so I was familiar with this kind of accessory and other personal protection measures against such diseases.

On the other hand, when COVID-19 broke out, I knew we were facing a shortage of masks in Algeria, as was the case elsewhere. I’m good at sewing and I had a stock of fabrics I had brought from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, so I took the plunge!

How many masks do you produce per day?

I make more than 300 masks, some of which are distributed to friends, neighbours, local merchants, associations and medical staff. Others are sold for a small amount.

What materials do you use to make the masks?

I use African prints cotton and cotton waxed fabrics. They are also lined. To ensure that they are safe for use to make masks, the fabrics are first machine-washed at 60°Celsius, ironed several times during the creation process, and disinfected one more time by the last ironing.

How do you distribute the masks?

People come to my house and ring the intercom to make an order. I then pack the masks in an envelope and put them at the entrance of the house with the customer’s names on it. When it is a small quantity, I leave them in the mailbox for people to collect. It is very important for me to respect the safety and social distancing measures required around COVID-19, especially because of my health history, but also for my customers coming to collect their masks.

What role are women in Algeria playing in the fight against COVID-19?

At the moment, women are helping to raise awareness on social networks. This is not to forget that we have women medics – doctors and nurses – who are on the frontline in this fight against COVID-19. They risk their lives for us every day.

What is your message to fellow Algerians at this time of COVID-19?

Let us maintain solidarity! Let us remain aware of the changes we are experiencing, because from now on nothing will ever be the same again. Let us be more respectful of nature, wildlife and everything that makes up our ecosystem.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

Zambian Women Lead the Way in Conservation Farming

Esnart Siandavu stands proudly in her rice field after changing from traditional farming methods to what is now a new and productive way of farming for her.

Esnart Siandavu stands proudly in her rice field. Photo credit Zanger Jr/UNDP Zambia/2014

Esnart Siandavu, 49, is engaged in a passionate discussion with a group of farmers on how to grow better crops.  Over the past 10 years, their Southern Zambian village of Muyumbela has been prone to extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

Crops and cattle have been destroyed, eliminating important sources of food and revenue and impacting the ability of families to send their children to school.

“Crop performance is always poor, and yields are often very low because of drought,” Esnart said. “My family runs out of food between February and March the following year until we are able to harvest new crops.”

Consequently, communities resorted to short-term measures to survive, such as cutting down and burning trees to make charcoal, which increased deforestation.

To help solve the problem, Esnart and another 2,000 farmers, 800 of them women, organized themselves into self-help groups and embraced conservation farming to increase their productivity while diversifying crops and livestock.

Supported by UNDP and the Zambian Government through a US $3.9 million project, local communities here and in seven other districts across the country have embraced the scheme. UNDP has been training staff at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, who in turn train the smallholder farmers in sustainable farming techniques.

As a result, many of the women have become beekeepers and used improved methods to produce new crops such as rice, sorghum, peas, sunflowers and sweet potatoes. Young people are also being introduced to horticulture and growing onions, tomatoes and watermelons.

The communities learn to conserve rainwater by building terraces on sloped land, and learn conservation farming techniques to help improve soil moisture retention and reduce erosion. Small dams are also used to retain silt.

UNDP also supported the construction of 16 weather stations in the eight districts where the programme operates. In addition, Zambia’s Metrological Department trained several farmers to measure air and soil temperature, humidity, wind speed, rainfall and solar radiation. The farmers advise their communities on what crops to plant at specific times of the year.

“My yields have now increased substantially since adopting conservation farming method,” Esnart happily said.

“We now have enough food throughout the year,” says Patricia Munwela, another conservation farmer.

In this conservative part of rural Zambia, women have few land tenure rights and little experience asserting themselves in a social context due to the gender imbalances in land access, ownership and control.

Areas that were previously flooded and were thought to be useless are now used for rice production to supplement the traditional maize staple crop. The women have taken a significant part in the rice production, recording good harvests.

“This has led to more income for their households and has also increased the women’s involvement in decision-making at household level and in farming operations through farmer groups,” said Viola Morgan, UNDP Country Director in Zambia.