The latest fashion: from market girl to dressmaker

Vocational training and psychosocial support for girls in Benin

When Angélique Kidjo was born in 1960, the West African country where her family lived was still called Dahomey. A lot has happened since then: Dahomey gained independence from its colonial master France, changed its name to Benin and was the first African country to outlaw female circumcision. Much has also happened in Angélique Kidjo's life: She studied music in France, recorded a dozen albums and won two Grammies for the best world music album. Today she is one of the most prominent figures in world music.

As anywhere in the world, many young girls in Benin also wish they could have a career like that. However, the reality is often very different: less than half of all children can go to school. 70 % of girls between age 5 and 14 have to work instead of learning to read and write.

One of these young women is Reine Noutaï. The 20-year-old half orphan lives with her brother in Cotonou, the largest city of Benin. Her father died and her mother lives in a far-away village. On Mondays and Thursdays she attends the school on Midogbò market that ASSOVIE, a partner organisation of Oxfam, has set up for the girls who work there. At the same time she receives vocational training at the dressmaker's shop "Jerusalem". When she came to ASSOVIE, she was very anxious and in bad physical shape. Today Reine is master dressmaker Ms. Metonou's best cutter.


In Benin in West Africa almost half of the approximately 10 million inhabitants live on less than 1.25 US dollars a day, which is how extreme poverty is defined. The situation is especially dire in rural areas. In the hope that they will find better opportunities for vocational training there, many families send their daughters to live with total strangers in the big cities. But instead of finding what they hoped for, they have to do household chores and earn their keep by working at the market. In Benin they are known as "Vidomègon" ("abandoned children"), and authorities estimate that there are more than 100.000 of them (Bancroft-Hinchey, 2013). The result of this and other traditional practices, such as forced marriage, is that two thirds of all school age children are involved in casual labor rather than learning to read and write (BIT, INSAE 2009).

95% of Benin's total workforce is involved in the informal economy, e.g. as small traders or domestic aids. Opportunities for formal vocational training are rare. As a result, there are only very few fully trained workers or craftspeople. Most are unskilled laborers.

The good deed

ASSOVIE is a local organisation, with whom Oxfam has been cooperating since 2009. It gives young people a prospect for a better life, pays for vocational trainings and supports them in building a life of their own, for example as a dressmaker. With this project, Oxfam wants to especially give women better opportunities to build up a livelihood for themselves by getting a well-grounded education.

But ASSOVIE not only supports individual girls. Their staff also provide information on children's rights and want to raise awareness of the issue among host families, market sellers, but also among prominent persons in the communities and city councils, in order to bring about a change in attitudes in Benin society. The project's aim is to bring about substantial change so that parents will no longer send their daughters off into an uncertain future.


A number of the girls involved with the project have experienced violence and are traumatized. As a result of being left to their own devices in the big city as young girls, many are deeply fearful and find it hard to trust anyone. Psychologists and street workers attend to these children very closely.

At the society level, practices such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation or sending off girls to live with strangers in the big city still survive in rural areas. By disseminating information and raising awareness among relevant groups such as host families or prominent persons in the city councils and communities, Oxfam's partner organisation is working towards a new way of thinking.

Countable output

After around 7 months


After around 3 years

Systemic effect

After around 7 years

Vocational training for girls who otherwise have little hope for a better future.
Oxfam's partner organisation places girls with established dressmakers and supervises their training.
The training course of 2016 for 15 girls has already started. The necessary materials have been acquired and distributed.
After 3 years, 45 girls have finished a 3-year training course.

There has been awareness-raising on children's rights.
As a result of their training, the girls were able to build a livelihood for themselves.

The awareness and practices concerning children's rights have begun to change.


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