Women constitute over 51% of Kenya’s 37 million inhabitants and over half of the labour force
. Women constitute the bulk of the over 46% Kenyans living below poverty line in a country whose Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is estimated at $1,800
and where a staggering 40% of the population, most of them women are unemployed. Studies have found that female-headed households constitute 30% of Kenya’s households of whom 52.9% are poor. According to a study carried out by East West Communications in 2008, Kenya is one of the poorest countries ranking176 out of 200 countries in the world. Kenya’s poor ranking was attributed to corruption, political instability and the post-election violence that occurred in the beginning of 2008
In Kenya, state appointments, budgetary allocations, and a distribution of public goodies appear to strictly follow the beacons of ethnic loyalty and closeness to state power. This manner of distributing the national cake is a major cause of the ethnic discontentment which can be a harbinger for chaos. Figuratively speaking, communities that find themselves at the periphery of power mobilize against the status quo on the basis that it wants the plate to go around. “It is our turn to eat” is an oft-quoted maxim in Kenya’s campaigns
. Indeed, Kenya’s political History has mainly been associated with violence, especially during campaign and election periods. The divide-and-rule administration tactics, although a legacy of the British colonial administration in Kenya, were polished under the Kenya African National Union (KANU) regime.
The global food crisis has been intensely felt by the poor in Kenya, with children starving to death, and women agonizing in the pain of losing their sons and daughters. Women in Kenya are the core of the family food security, especially in marginalized and rural Kenya, and their efforts many a times have hit the roof for lack of resources and support from the established structures. Today we have many of them living in chronic hunger and poverty as the food they grow for sustenance has failed or they have been evicted from their homes or are displaced.
Testimonials of Women’s Experience With Poverty
The National Dialogue and Reconciliation was set up by the African Union to resolve the post election violence that locked Kenya following the disputed presidential elections of 2007. The team of eminent persons working under the chairmanship of former UN secretary General Dr. Kofi Annan identified poverty as one of the main courses of the breakdown in law and order.
The ethnic clashes witnessed in Kenya in 1992 and 1997 have poverty links in that the political class took advantage of lack of security to livelihood to perpetuate ethnic hatred for political gains. The climax of this was the 2007 general election that triggered deep-seated anger against some ethnic groups, seen to have dominated the consumption of the national cake through proximity to power since Kenya’s independence in 1963, can no doubt be blamed for this eventuality. A report released by the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) in October 15, 2008
established land grievancesand the centralization of power in the presidency as root causes of the violence.
In an effort to understand the perspective of the poor, during the month of September 2008, Education for Life Institute, a member of GCAP set out to document testimonials of people’s experiences with poverty. At first members of the media were sent for four days to Wajir where they were to document first hand experiences of the poor and tell the story to the world.
In their news features, Daisy Serem of K24 and Isabela Mwagodi KTN captured the story of women literally fighting for milk- a scarce but most necessary commodity in Wajir.
The second level of the poverty hearings involved having a jury composed of eminent Kenyans listening to testimonials of peoples’ experiences with poverty. One Monica Naitore from Mwichuili village of Kieni constituency had this to say,
“Let me tell you, I have poverty of an enormous magnitude. I was left with children by my late son. He was the only child. He passed on. He left me with three children. The last born was three months when my son passed on. My children are going to school, but I am defeated because of poverty I am going through. In addition there is rent to pay to my land lord and I have accumulated rent arrears for six months. The landlord is telling me to get them out.
The children are going to school but because of the hard times, I ask them that when they are given food (Mixture of maize and beans) in school, they hide some. They bring home and we add water and we eat together. In the morning I tell them wake up we pray. I boil water a cup per child and send them to school. So I have problems my government; I need a place for these children because I have problems and I will fall down with the children. When I take a panga to look for casual lobor people tell me ‘woman you are too thin you cannot dig’. Now, I am still being told to leave the house I live in and I have no strength to go to the roads. I contemplated taking poison and leaving the children, but when I looked at the children I asked myself the children will ask ‘Grandma did you have to die and our father died and our mother too and now you too have left us’. I am pleading with the government in the grace of God to give me shelter- a place from where I can bring these kids up. I have problems because I had a fracture in the hands. After the fracture I stayed for two weeks unattended to because I had no money to take me to hospital because of poverty.”
After listening to this testimonial, the chairman of the jury, industrialist Dr. Manu Chandaria, had this say:
“You know when I heard Monica, I cried and cried and then I wondered why there is not a one (single) tear in her eyes- (it is) because she has cried so much there is no more a tear left. And this is a classical case of our country’s desperation and poverty.
I think this is what I feel – ashamed to be a Kenyan. Because, how can we allow this to happen to our own Kenyans? …. We are playing with human lives and it is not possible to continue playing with human lives. We must be responsible. We must make sure it is a right for every human being to earn a living, eat, and go to sleep. It is a right.
To Naitore and others like her, while the combination of food crisis, financial crisis and post election political violence presents immense hardships the climate change crisis holds her vulnerable to even more severe risks.
The Post-Election Violence Needs of The Kenyan Woman
Women Need Economic Empowerment.
If the liberalization of the economy in India is something to go by, where multinational corporations have entered into the production of goods earlier made by the masses, the poor and in particular the women have been pushed out of their traditional livelihood niches. Kenya then needs learn before embarking on economic reforms and cushion the women against losing control over their means of livelihood.
Land policy was a key reason for the recent post election violence.
In Kenya, where the livelihood of most communities is agriculture and livestock production, women contribute up to 80 % of the workforce yet they only hold 1% of registered land titles in their names and around 5-6 % of registered titles held in joint names.
As a result, many women loose land ownership in an event where the spouse passes on. This has impacted heavily on poverty whose current rate is 46% in Kenya and women bearing a disproportionate larger burden of this 46 %.
Though women are the practical farmers in rural Kenya, agricultural services and education are directed to male and women’s contribution to the economy remains undervalued and invisible in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The proposed Land policy and the constitution review process under Agenda 4
of the Post Election Reconciliation Process promises to address land issues in Kenya completely, but the question is how effectively are women’s rights mainstreamed in the land reform and reconciliation processes
The Role of The Woman in Climate Change
Climate change is the single greatest environmental threat to life on earth. It not only impacts on our environment physically and economically, it also affects us socially and culturally
In Kenya women being the poorest are most effected – climate change is a disaster – failing crops, hunger, species extinction, rising sea levels
. Developing Countries in Africa have to spend 5-10% of GDP on adaptations to the changing climate. Climate change is a reality with floods, droughts, high winds and increase in diseases ever present. With institutions being weak to deal with climate change and there being lack of financial resources the situation is bound to get worse.
The role of woman as an agent of change; she being the lead person to save and feed her family she has to cope with new innovations and changing livelihoods. Currently, little money is going to the woman in her adaptations to climate change in order to reduce vulnerability
Women in Kenya have a key role in tackling climate change as consumers, educators and ‘change agents’ in their homes, encouraging the adoption of lower carbon lifestyles and passing on green values to the next generation.
Women hold the answers to climate change. Adapting to climate change will affect agriculture, food security and water management in rural areas, which are all traditionally women’s tasks. In Africa, for example, 80 percent of food production is managed by women.
There is a clear realization that in all violence scenarios, women and girls are the severely affected, and the consequences of these effects are far reaching. Women want to influence the decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their families, the political economy and destiny of their communities and nations, as well as the structure of international relations. Political participation and representation is essential for the achievement of these ends. This will allow women and men of all ages and races the full exercise of their human rights. It is also the avenue for influencing equitable resource allocations for development that shape the lives of girls and boys, as well as women and men.
There is growing recognition that economic participation and political participation cannot be separated. Institutional transformations are needed to create the enabling environment for the economic and political empowerment of women. A more profound understanding of the barriers in labour markets and remuneration processes is also necessary as a precondition for their transformation. This is particularly important since women’s economic independence is critical for their exercise of influence on decisions that affect their lives and their families.
There are strong linkages between processes that lead to poverty and those that result in gender disparities. Efforts towards poverty reduction therefore need to be informed by a gender analysis.
Recommendations: The Kenya Naitore Wants
In 2000, Kenya joined the world in signing the millennium development goals that committed amongst other things to halving the number of people suffering extreme poverty and hunger, the number of women who die due to birth related complications and increasing the Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural
and an increase in participation of women in decision making. It was then expected that the wellbeing of the Kenyan women would be getting better eight years down the line. However, this has not been the case and the Kenyan woman is increasingly insecure in most of the above aspects. For example, the risk of dying in Kenya from pregnancy related complication is at 1:20 compared to 1:8,200 in the UK
The Kenya that Naitore wants is one that will meet the Millennium Development Goals. She desires a responsible country; one that can guarantee the right of every woman to earn her living and eat and go to sleep. A country that upholds her right to a decent life; get three meals a day and a good education, or when sick, there is a hospital, there is a clinic or there is a dispensary which can attend to her. That is what Monica Naitore is asking for.
The modern form of poverty is designed and perpetuated by man and it can be resolved by man
Like in Rehoboam’s adage
, the yolk colonization, apartheid and slavery was heavy but poverty has made it heavier. The former scourged women with whips, the later with scorpions.
On colonization, Harrison, P. (1993) quoted the following
“hewers of wood and drawers of water…. They wiped out indigenous industry and forced the colonies to buy their manufactures. They undermined the self-sufficiency of the Third World and transformed it into a source of raw materials for Western industries
…. Sometimes they bought land or just seized it to set up plantations, drafting in cheap labour to work them.”
Today’s private sector-lead economic arrangement; though it has certainly created immense wealth, epitomizes competition. Like in the Darwin theory, the peasants face extinction in the face of unfair competition that is aided by technology which is quickly rendering many blue color jobs obsolete leaving the workers economically disenfranchised.
First We Need to Put People First, Profits Second.
What Naitore needs is more of President Obama’s view of the world. He said”
“What we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace”
Naitory does not have the luxury of waiting for promises to be kept ‘after the economy improves.’ We shall stop pegging the achievement of MDGs to economic growth as we do today if our fiscal practices take cognizance of the fact that
“The fact that the economy grows — that it produces more goods and services one year than it did in the previous one — no longer ensures that most families will benefit from its growth. For the first time on record, an economic expansion seems to have ended without family income having risen substantially. Most families are still making less, after accounting for inflation, than they were in 2000(Ibid).”
Listening to Kenyan economic managers feels like having a coffee break talk with Bob Rubin, a formerGoldman Sachs
executive turned White House aide during the Clinton era, who favoredreducing the deficit to soothe the bond market, bring down interest rates and get the economy moving again.
Like with the Kibaki administration, the Rubin’s orientation helped usher in the 1990s boom and the only period of strong, broad-based income growth in a generation. But the benefits flowed mostly to a small segment of population at the very top of the income distribution. We must remember more than ever that,
“Comparing the current moment with 1993, “The distributional issues are obviously more serious now.” From today’s vantage point, inequality looks likes a bigger problem than economic growth; fiscal discipline seems necessary but not sufficient (Ibid).”
Taking Services to The People: Enable a Develop Fund for the Poor.
Since investment in development echelons has failed to result in a trickle-down effect, a more reliable and homemade solution to delivery of services to the women can be found in community systems. There is an extensive civil society network (religious institutions, NGOs and CBOs) with a capacity to take services to a walking distance for the Kenyan women and at a cost, efficiency and effectiveness that the government is unable to match. Unfortunately, these efforts are limited by reliance on foreign funding.
At independence, faith based and other community based groups established many schools for Africans. A well intentioned government plan which involved supporting these initiatives by way of providing teachers and supporting construction works lost sight of its vision when the government took over the schools from the groups. Faith based groups have since turned from providing schools for the poor to running elitist private schools.
In the early 1970s, the Government of Kenya introduced a Health Center Model targeting the roots of poverty by combining the resources of local communities with government funds in establishing those clinics. These health centers were finally turned into public hospitals for Kenyans. The model needs to be revived. It is possible to achieve this through the budget. A good example is that of the former president Bush who, doubled federal financing for community health centers when setting up, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas. These bore their fruits.
For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancerscreenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
For the sake of getting medical services to a walking distance from Naitore’s home, the government must start funding the community based groups and other charitable organizations. The current trend of turning to the private sector to deliver charity is not working. For example, the government recently put millions of tax payers’ money in the hands of private millers with the hope of lowering the price of Unga and the results have been disastrous. Private sector exists to make profits. The sector has the capacity to create wealth for the people and must be capacitated to do so while the philanthropic civil society is left to do what it exists for- serve community needs.
Library of Congress (2007). Country Profile: Kenya
C. Haub, (2007). World Population Data Sheet
 Daily Nation
(30 January, 2009). Kenya
The Tokyo foundation; Kenyas post election violence http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/sylff/voices-from-the-sylff-community/kenya2019s-post-election-violence
The full report is available at:
Kenya Red Cross Monitoring Reports, March 2007.The Post Election violence in Kenya was triggered by a rigged election and the ensuring violence that erupted led to displacements, death and sexual violence on women.
Kenya Land Alliance, 2003, Women and Land in Kenya.KLA
Kenya Budgetary Household Survey (KIBHS), 2006, CBS, Kenya.Incidence of poverty was calculated using the Gini Index.
The Fourth and last agenda of the mediation talks which focuses 6 issues among them Land reforms, Poverty and inequality, Constitutional Reforms, Youth unemployment, National Cohesion and Unity and Transparency and Accountability, KPTJ issue 01/2008.
E. Njoki Wamai (2008). Women and Poverty (Land Rights and Ownership
Gerd Z., (2008). Towards Sustainable Global Health.
United Nations Campus
International Union for Conservation of Nature (2008). Women Feel the Heat of Climate Change.
Online. Website: http://www.iucn.org/where/global/?2410
United Nations (2008), Millennium Development Goals Report, 11th
Samuel Siringi, 2008, Pregnancy Related Illnesses Kill 16 Daily.
The Daily Nation Moday October 27th
2Chronicals 10:12-15, The Holy Bible
Paul Harrison, Inside the Third World: The Anatomy of Poverty
, Third Edition (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 45.
New York Times (August 24, 2008). How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy
Klamath Health Partnership, Inc (2008). A History of Community Health Centers.
New York Times, (December 26, 2008). Expansion of Clinics Shapes Bush Legacy