|Case Study of Women Block Makers in Kenya (Habitat)|
In countries which are still and basically poor, it may be expected that there are strong motivations for rural people to migrate to the cities. Indeed, in Kenya, Nairobi has proved to be a powerful magnet in this respect, and the high influx of migrants over the past 20 years has caused a great demand for houses leading to a boom in rental accommodation and speculative building. A striking feature of Nairobi is the extent of low-cost housing areas and squatter settlements. Inevitably, the demand for housing outstrips the supply presenting the Government authorities with a formidable challenge.
Apart from direct commercial activities, the vehicles for developing low-cost housing include co-operatives and self-help schemes. With self-help schemes in particular, there are opportunities for groups to establish themselves at a very informal level and, subsequently, to develop into formal production or industrial operations. There are women's self- help groups, and, as interest in promoting women's integration in non-traditional sectors of the economy gains momentum, there is a growing need to identify conditions under which such pioneering activities by women can be made efficient and effective. This case study sets out to identify gender-specific constraints to small-scale building materials production and to generate a set of policies for eliminating such constraints.
In carrying out the case study, a search was made or comparison groups, equivalent in terms of low-fever or intermediate technology. It was expected that at least two comparable women's groups and at least one male group working under similar conditions would be found. This latter group, it was expected, would be useful in highlighting any constraints applicable specifically to the women's groups.
At the outset of the search for suitable women's groups, it was known that there was a successful women's co-operative at Kibwezi (Ecoforum, vol.12, No.1, February 1987) which had already diversified its operation. Yet, there were doubts as to whether the section of the group dealing with building materials was operating on a continuous basis and whether it was using an intermediate technology comparable in type and level to the other groups being compared in Nairobi. Therefore, an assessment was made of several possible comparison groups, including the following:
- A women's group operating in the Loresho/Kangemi area. This was found to be a harambee group, only occasionally operating and currently not active in building materials production.
- A men's or mixed group at Mathare/Kariobangi. Information from the National Cooperative Housing Union (NACHO) indicated that the group was currently inactive while funds were being sought for the implementation stage of a housing programme. It appeared that the group had only been active long enough to produce blocks and sisal-cement roof tiles for a demonstration house.
- The Kabiro Women's Group. This was part of a Kabiro Community Centre group in the Kawangware area of the Dagoretti Division of Nairobi. The group had received prior support from the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA), the Housing Research and Development Unit (HRDU) of the University of Nairobi and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
- A women's group at Kibwezi. Kebwezi is some 200 km from Nairobi, and site visits were planned on several occasions but abandoned as site visits in Nairobi took up increasing amounts of time. It was also questioned whether a rural group was comparable to urban groups in terms of the study, even if of relevance in the widest sense.
-The Dandora Local Women's Self-help Group. This is situated in the general area of Mathare/Kariobange on the outskirts of Nairobi. Various other groups were considered and abandoned because of their different types of activities. For example, there was little point in comparing chicken-rearing, sewing or weaving with building materials production, when only the latter was the subject under study as a nontraditional activity. Finally the Kabiro Women's Group and the Dandora Local Women's Self-help Group were chosen for the study. Their backgrounds were similar, the technology being used was identical, but their progress had been substantially different. No men's group was located doing comparable work.
Where women are engaged in small-scale industrial activities, it is expected that they will be in competition with other producers. in such cases, it is necessary to distinguish between what may be the abilities of one entrepreneur over another and what may be the effects of gender-specific causes. Such differences a, e not always clear, since entrepreneurial ability and potential can be affected by prior incidents and environments which may well have been gender-based.
Of the two groups examined here, the Kabiro group operated on an intermittent part-time basis in that, whilst production was intermittent according to demand, the individual women worked on a part-time basis by forming subgroups which worked one shift each on a rotational system. The Dandora group aimed to work continuously five days per week with an almost identical part- time system of rotating shifts. In the case of the Dandora group, some of the land had been sublet to a men's training group which was supported by the local diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and was training unemployed youths in building trades. There was a seemingly obvious potential for co-operation, in that one group was producing building materials while the adjacent group was training people to use them.
Two industrial operations were examined in sufficient detail to establish, amongst other things, that the building industry and, hence, the building materials industry was enjoying, if anything, a boom period. Thus, general market conditions would seem to favour producers. The technical aspects of building materials production are of considerable importance, especially where women are competing in an open-market situation but, also, because of safety factors. It is of interest that women's traditional skills may be of advantage in building materials production.