|Women of Kibwezi - A Case Study of the Kibwesi Women's Integrated Rural Development Programme (HABITAT, 1990, 76 p.)|
The FAO Conference of 1985 endorsed the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women and the United Nations System-wide Medium-term Plan for Women in Development. It asked the Director General of FAO to prepare a plan of action for the integration of women in development and to ensure that all relevant FAO programmes incorporated the recommendations of the Forward-looking Strategies and the System-wide Plan. It also resolved to convene a meeting of experts to discuss how to integrate and systematize programmes and guidelines needed to put into practice strategies for the integration of women in development.
As can be seen from the foregoing, such action in high places is very often not needed. The action for improvement and development takes place - in any and every case - at grassroots level and it is there that solutions to local problems can be found. In every case there are many variables and it is easier for neighbouring communities to learn from each other and add their own seasoning to each problem's solutions.
Peasant life is a life committed completely to survival. Perhaps this is the only characteristic fully shared by peasants everywhere. Their implements, their crops, their earth, climate and masters may be different, but whether they labour within a capitalist society, a feudal one, an African social democracy, or other groupings that cannot be so easily defined, whether they grow rice in Java, wheat in Scandinavia, or maize in Africa, whatever the differences of religion and social history, the peasantry everywhere can be defined as a class of survivors. There is ample proof of this statement too in the story of the Kibwezi women.
The women of Kibwezi, hard hit first by the need to migrate from their homelands literally in search of greener pastures for their livestock and therefore better lives for themselves and their families, were hit a second time and over a longer period by the sequence of droughts that devastated their new homes in the wake of the 1960s Sahelian disaster. They were hungry, destitute, desperate and, legally, landless individuals left with the responsibility of feeding and caring for the old and the very young members of their families while their husbands and other able male relatives were searching for monetized subsistence in the various towns of Kenya.
They were fortunate in appealing for assistance when they did, as crisis situations are often recognized at a very late stage when help may not really be of much avail any more. They were equally fortunate in that the organization they approached, the Council for Human Ecology-Kenya, immediately assessed their assistance needs and elaborated projects according to their physical and mental conditions at that time.
It is difficult to assess how much heavier the women's work load became when the men left. As in other parts of Africa, 80 per cent of the family food needs are met by women's activities. In this semi-arid area, their resources were always meagre and under drought conditions, their existing roles and resources in food production and family welfare became crucial to survival: it is the labour of women in the subsistence sector that secures the continuity of rural communities.
It is equally difficult - if not impossible - to find out which member of a family assumed which of the departed men's responsibilities. Suffice it to say that, according to African tradition, there was no gender discrimination in the performance of duties within the family and everybody did as much as he or she could do. Also, as elsewhere in the world in situations of crisis, the mother was less well or adequately fed, than her children. Yet ultimately, they survived and prospered.
However, it is not only the women themselves and their families who have benefited from the activities and successful efforts of the women's groups once these were formed. The entire small township of Kibwezi has grown in population, since it is now an attractive centre for new in-migrants, and the number and variety of trade and business opportunities has also increased greatly. Signs of general higher incomes and physical 'development are everywhere: a large hardware and building materials shop was set up in 1987: cement, galvanized iron sheets, sanitary wares, carpentry hardware and window glass can be obtained locally now and although the cost of their transport by rail from Nairobi or Mombasa is reflected in their prices, these are still much lower than when road transport had to be arranged and paid for. The Young Boys' Carpenters Group, started on a Trickle-Up grant in 1982, dwindled from its original 12 members to four but has grown again to eight, working a full eight-hour day, six days a week. They now have some competition too as there are three more carpenters' workshops in town. Kibwezi has three public telephone booths and a bookshop - reflecting the spread of literacy.
Non-governmental organizations, such as Action Aid and CARE have opened permanent offices in Kibwezi and stationed permanent technical staff there. Peace Corps volunteers, engaged mainly in teaching activities, are an every-day feature of the Kibwezi shopping area. Motor cycles and 4-wheel drive vehicles are parked all along the centre's roads and lorry traffic in and out of it is heavier every month. Four years ago there was only one small. African-type eating and rest-house in town: now there are four doing good business in meat dishes and a roaring trade in soft drinks and beer if one is to judge by the number of crates of 'empties' waiting collection on their doorstep.
The number of private buses, matatus has increased and there is a regular movement by road of fresh vegetables and fruit for city markets and export. The farms producing these are mainly owned or run by women and quantities produced by each individual farmer, are very small. Yet, on the 7 April 1988 at 9 a.m., along a 200 metre stretch of the main Kibwezi-Kitui road, at about 4 kilometres from the town's centre, there were five small boys and two little girls each holding a regulation 10cm × 30cm × 60cm carton of okra for export, waiting for a light-delivery truck to collect their mothers' produce.
In 1984 the women had reached the conclusion that a secondary boarding school for girls was needed in Kibwezi. The area has 45 mixed primary schools and two secondary schools for boys but there were no higher educational facilities for girls. St. Josephs' School built, with funds provided by the Government of Kenya, USAID and the local Roman Catholic diocese and other funds raised in the national harambee style, now has dormitories and classes for 120 girls, a teaching and administrative resident staff of 22, a labour force of 30 and a 12-hectare farm supplying it with food.
Each of the women's activities has meant introducing new inhabitants to Kibwezi. Having settled the question of their daughters' education, they tackled their own. At their request to the Ministry of Education three adult literacy trachers have since been stationed in Kibwezi alone and classes are held once a week in the office of the honey-and-wax refinery. The Post Office has increased its staff, because almost every woman involved in a goat, brick or handicraft project has opened a Post Office Savings Account. A Kenyan commercial bank has opened a branch in Kibwezi town. Even the number of government employees has increased by the addition of many subaltern extension officers. The posting of three land adjudicators and one forestry Officer is a direct outcome of actions connected to the Women's Rural Development Programme. All these officers have brought their families with them.
A small slaughter house and goat-skin tannery are planned for Kibwezi. From that there is the possibility in the more distant future of organizing the production of fashion items combining these tanned skins with traditional Kamba basket-making and the equally traditional Kamba wood carvings. Rabbit breeding will not only add badly needed animal protein to Kibwezi diets, but will generate a secondary industry in tanned rabbit fur blankets and clothing articles. When the problem of the modern hives, which the bees dislike, is solved, more honey and wax will be produced and the raw material, in addition to pure refined honey, may be used for the manufacture of cakes, cookies and candy, church candles, soaps, cosmetics, floor and furniture polishes and other secondary industries. There have been discussions on the possibility and advisability of producing royal jelly and propolis, two highly-priced items on the world market.
It is also envisaged that brick-making women may team up with others trained by Action Aid or other agencies in bricklaying, carpentry, roofing, plumbing and glazing to form building teams and hire themselves out in groups as builders of better shelter - as they are already doing at a lower level of technology.
The above are the findings and prognosis of CHEK. CARE, Action Aid and the Peace Corps organizations probably have additional development plans of their own.
As Kibwezi develops, other non-governmental organizations may come into it with other ideas and programmes. If or when the Kikumbulyu Irrigation Scheme planned by the Tana and Athi Rivers Authority to be operational some three years ago, but not yet started, is actually implemented, the growth in agricultural and horticultural production is expected to be very high. Even with the expected influx of new migrants to the area in connection with this development, the women will probably still constitute the majority of the farmers. That would undoubtedly mean better nutrition and, therefore, better health for all those concerned, more income and a higher standard of living for most.
In any case, whether the Irrigation Scheme materializes or not, as the economic situation of the women improves and as they gain more knowledge through education, they may also gain enough confidence to formulate and find ways of implementing their own programmes. They have shown their competence in doing so, in the case of the girls' secondary boarding school, which may, perhaps not have come into existence for many more years without them.
Perhaps also the daughters they are now educating and training, will join them in their efforts at more equitably distributed wealth, employment and prospects for the future. The women involved in the projects studied have struggled hard for a better life for themselves and their families. This basic improved level has now been achieved and, as has been mentioned in the introductory chapter and seen in many third world countries, once women are aware of their own potential, as far as they are concerned, the sky is the limit. Possibly, even that may not be so within a generation or two, and it may be safer to say that there are no limits.