|Case Study of Women Block Makers in Kenya (Habitat)|
The two Women's Groups examined are grappling with the demands of a basically industrial task, albeit on a part-time basis, whilst being mothers and housewives at the same time. Living in an environment of housing shortage which encourage high rents, whilst suffering under the all-too-typical burden of insufficient income, the women have a definite motivation to earn money and to make the building materials out of which their own houses might be constructed - if, that is, they can get the land on which to build.
There is much to support the idea of setting aside a parcel of community land in each new housing area and seeking similar plots in existing areas, to be used for building materials production. There is logic in having such land integral with a community group, so that a women's group could have sufficient room for its activities and future development. It would be wrong should such land be considered industrial land or should form part of an industrial estate, since the initial activities would likely be informal in nature and would, perhaps, slowly develop over some years into industrial-scale activities. By being close to the community in a physical sense, the women could easily perform their dual roles, if necessary. Provision of such land is analogous to sites-and-services schemes for low-income people, where the most basic input of all - land - is made available.
Land is a commodity which is always in short supply, especially in urban areas. Women, by virtue of duties and responsibilities which prevent them from earning much, if anything, are doubly disadvantaged in gaining access to land. Access to land with security of tenure requires money, and such money, if it is to be borrowed for investment, even in informal activities, needs security. A prime source of security is often domestic housing and associated land which, in the cases of the Groups studied, did not exist. In any case, it is known that low-cost housing is often not considered, by banks and traditional lenders, as being acceptable collateral.
Informal investments by women's groups, self-help groups etc. may not make a return equal to the apparent value of the investment (any more than a seed can be cropped before it has grown and borne fruit), so that loan capital cannot be paid back at an acceptable rate to an investment institution. Support to the development of women's groups may then be necessary, whether such support be in the form of land grants, equipment grants or other forms of support - but the analogy of the seed and the fruit should not be missed.
Rural-urban migration is not confined to men, since there are women, too, who, on their own, see the urban life as a road to independence and security. The ultimate result of this migration is a sizable proportion of female-headed households, usually concentrated in the poorest areas at the periphery of the metropolis. They find a need, with other women, to organize themselves around activities which might generate income or, at least, reduce the need for expenditure. The attraction of making building materials may be based on an external demand for such materials but is increased by the vision of being able to build a house of some sort in an environment of high rents for accommodation. A woman who has no land might see it as being easy to take the first step of collecting building materials on a piecemeal basis, even when the ability to buy the land itself is nowhere on the horizon. This type of faith can be seen in the Kabiro Group which is slowly collecting sheets of corrugated iron for the roof and blocks for the walls of new premixes for which the land exists only in the future.
With the move from rural life to urban life putting traditional social and cultural habits under pressure, it is not surprising that some traditional activities begin to lose their gender-biased taboos. In the city, the need to have money becomes paramount, because the ability to live off the land has been removed. It has been traditional in Africa that women help with making or getting the materials with which a family house is built and with doing much of the construction work itself. The desire for schooling, for which some fees are demanded, and the related need for parent-provided school uniforms and other school supplies are a further source of pressure to develop an income.
Where employment for wages is not readily available and where neither funds nor the collateral to borrow funds are available, the opportunities for self-employment are limited. Thus, co-operatives in a formal sense cannot be formed. At the outset, however, women can get together in the form of women's groups, pooling their energies and what spare time they have from family duties. Such pooling is generally temporary, lasting as long as the common task requires it, and the group then remains inactive until the next common task appears. There are elements of this in the Kabiro Group which makes blocks on an intermittent basis, as the need arises. Yet, in such self-help groups, there is and must be the essence of co-operation, and it is a logical step that, if a long-term 'problem' (or opportunity) exists, the solution or application of group efforts might also be long-term. Over the long term, the informal group might change to a formal co-operative, and women's groups might diversify their activities, from those which are primarily supportive of the family (making school uniforms) to those which generate income as a first step and, thus, support the family.
Cottage-industry or family operations can be constrained by a lack of capital resources. For example, the weaving of carpets can progress as fast as there are weavers in the family but is limited by availability of operating supplies. It can be difficult for a family operation to develop into a formal business operation, especially if other resources, such as time and, say, marketing expertise, are restricted. However, by pooling available spare time and other resources, women have discovered that they can go beyond the limits of cottage industry and, by enlarging the scale of activities, can move into small or medium-scale manufacturing enterprises. This brings women into a different area of competitive operations, and it is here that outputs must also be competitive, if benefits are to be realized at an acceptable level, and investments protected.
The production of building materials, such as concrete blocks, and other relatively simple cast-concrete products seems to be a good opportunity for women to move into a nontraditional industrial operation. The initial technology can be simple, but profits can be reinvested in mechanized production. The replicability of cast-concrete products, given that the raw materials are adequate and simple recipes are followed, is such that the process is an easy starter. in fact, compared with weaving and cooking, the basic process is very simple and can be understood by most operators, so that, if the person is absent, replacement by a family "deputy" can be effected without loss of production. Whilst women in Africa have often practiced group or communal activities, yet industrial production demands regular attendance at fixed times and some commitment to relinquish other tasks in favour of the production unit. Thus industrial endeavour requires disciplined behaviour around standardized activities.
Household activities are characterized by different features from those of industry: for example, variability of activity, low predictability in timing, simultaneous rather than serial processing, and emergencies. Domestic activities are not easily mechanized, certainly not in terms of what is affordable, and tend to be what can be called female-labour-greedy activities. Because low-level industrial activities are not usually a change of activity for women but, rather, a series of additional activities, it is not easy for women to enter the formal workforce. In addition, where an all-male workforce exists, management is reluctant to employ women.
In the case of the block-making groups reviewed here, activities are organized in such a way as to allow for minimal interference with household duties - especially for those who are heads of households. Much of the spare time of the women is concentrated, so that they can give one day per week for block-making in what is, essentially, a part-time production or industrial activity. So far, women's groups have come up with innovative solutions to cope with the demands of their work situation, such as the daily rotation of the work gangs, advance substitution for absent members, division of labour by age and siblings taking care of young children. With these innovative methods, gender-related difficulties, which do exist, do not interfere with operations at the current relatively informal level of production. Numbers are large enough to compensate for some health problems, including those which might be specific to women. As compared with a regular industrial operation, however, the women are not paid wages but share profits from sales. In a sense, the women donate their spare time to the operation, and the cost of this labour is generally considered to be very low.
The problems of the two Groups differ with respect to land but otherwise have common aspects. In terms of production output per person, it is low for both Groups and must be raised, if they are to change from the status of a low income-generating group to one which competes successfully with other producers in terms of production, sales and salaries. An industrial-engineering study may be one way of defining how and where productivity can be realistically improved and what other needs the Groups have in terms of managing a small enterprise.
In addition to the difficulty of finding land on which to operate, women's groups entering into production and sales of building materials face a number of problems where assistance seems necessary:
(a) Production efficiency. The actual physical labour expended on any task is minimized by adopting practices which reduce labour. In some cases, simple or low-cost production aids should be introduced.
(b) Training and communication. Enterpreneurship, management, administration and maintenance are all areas where training needs to be given to the women. As many as possible need to be given such training, since, where decisions are group decisions, the group should be well-informed. Such training will be essential to support development from the informal self-help type of operation to the competitive, high-income levels of a women's cooperative or private company.
(c) Sources of finance. These are often closed to women because of, amongst other reasons, a lack of collateral to support loans which would enable them to start a business. Official support is needed to convince, for example, the commercial banks that they should allocate a proportion of investment loan capital for women's groups who meet certain basic criteria, but with substantially reduced collateral needs, interest levels and repayment terms.