Gender Mainstreaming: Empowering Women in Vihiga County
In Vihiga County, western Kenya, gender mainstreaming is becoming a critical factor to attaining equitable human development. The female leadership at the county assembly is on a mission to ensure that policy and legislation at the county is influenced from a gender perspective and that women at grassroots level are economically empowered. As a result, about 100 women from the county’s five sub-counties have been trained on Financial Management and Entrepreneurship.
Ms. Rose Esendi has been a member of a women group since 1992, though before the training she had little to show from her monthly savings with the group for the past 25 years. Until recently, the tradition has been that at the end of every year, the money is divided among the women to be used to cater for the expenses of the holiday festivities or to buy school uniforms for the children. Ms. Esendi keeps poultry that she mostly gives for free to her visiting relatives from the city and sells to the locals. The proceeds she gets from selling the chicken is what she takes to the women group’s savings account.
“Before the Financial Management training, we rarely discussed in our monthly meetings how we could work as a group to improve ourselves and our financial status. Personally, I relied on my husband to cater for all the family needs and sometimes, he would even give me the money that I would bring to the table banking group as my contribution. But now things are changing, every one of our members has a small business they are running and we are now able to manage our finances better. When we meet as a group, it is inexcusable to come without money to contribute to the group’s kitty. In addition, we have also made financial investment; we have bought a motorbike, that we are using for transportation business earning us KES 10,500(USD 105) every month. Our group has also applied for a KES 500,000 (USD 5000) loan from the Government Women Enterprise Fund and we are deliberating on whether we should use the money to buy more motorbikes or invest in a piece of land.” says Ms. Esendi.
“There was a critical need to enhance the capacity of women MCAs so that when bills go to the county assembly, they are better equipped to interrogate the bills to ensure that they incorporate the issues of women,” explains Mary Njoroge, Devolution program Manager, UNDP Kenya.
As a result, the County government of Vihiga with support from UNDP trained twelve female MCAs with the purpose of developing their capacity in leadership, governance and social empowerment. After the training, the women leaders committed to promote solidarity among women in general and among women representatives at county level, to enable policy and legislative influence from a gender perspective; raise awareness of gender equality issues within the county assembly; enhance the capacity of women leaders as effective legislators and representatives and ensure that gender policy and legislation is effectively implemented.
The women leaders presented a motion in the assembly to formalize the registration of a women caucus as an organ of the county assembly and on 14th March,2017, heralding the ground breaking Vihiga County Women Caucus.
“Our main aim of forming the women caucus was to bring together the women of Vihiga County to learn as well as understand the challenges faced by the women in this county. We further mobilized women between the ages of 35 – 70 from the registered women groups across the county and trained them on economic empowerment skills.” noted, Hon. Maureen Ambasa, who is one of the MCAs during the launch of the caucus.
After the training on Financial Management, the women groups were taken for an exchange program, to informal settlements of Soweto, Nairobi County, where they learnt from a group of women on financial management based on their knowledge and experiences. “The Soweto exposure helped us to discover that with better financial skills, it was possible to do more than just saving,” says another trainee, Ms. Nancy Salano.
By the end of 2016, Ms. Salano’s 36-member group had saved over KES 700,000(USD 7000). “Usually, at the end of every year, we would share our savings amongst ourselves and start saving again the following year but after seeing how the women of Soweto had used their savings to better their livelihoods, we decided to do it their way and so at the end of 2016 instead of distributing all the money among ourselves, we opened a new savings account where we deposited KES 360,000 and then divided the remaining amount among the group members. The training and exchange program has been an eye opener; a starting point in our lives”.
The training and the exchange program has enabled the women to learn how they can improve their livelihoods with the little resources at their disposal as well as realize that they already had what it takes to improve their lives.
The partnership between UNDP and the County Government of Vihiga presents an opportunity for more concerted efforts towards gender equity and equality, an important and long overdue stimulus to a more inclusive human development and accelerated economic growth. As the 2016 African Human Development Report notes, there is a high economic cost when women are not integrated fully into their respective economies.
“Our political representation should be more substantive than descriptive. Our presence at the county assembly should add tangible value and not merely recognize gender equality. We are proud when we hear the stories of these women who have been trained through the caucus initiative,” says Hon. Elizabeth Okila, Chairperson Vihiga Women Caucus and elected MCA.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Kenya has been supporting Vihiga county in implementation of devolution since 2015. One of the partnerships between Vihiga County and UNDP is gender mainstreaming at the country level starting with the county assembly.
The capacity building programs for the MCAs and the women groups were conducted by Muthaa Community Development Foundation (MCDF). UNDP support for this program has been possible through funding from the Swedish Government.