Economy, News

How We Can Fire the Economic Engine Through Women

Recent­ly, I was hon­ored to pay a cour­tesy call to His Excel­len­cy Luke Williams, the Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sion­er to Kenya. We dis­cussed mat­ters of mutu­al inter­est includ­ing Green Growth and the vast oppor­tu­ni­ties that both coun­tries present to their peo­ple. Because wom­en’s eco­nom­ic empow­er­ment is a crit­i­cal part of the Green econ­o­my, I was elec­tri­fied to learn about Aus­trali­a’s pas­sion and record for advanc­ing wom­en’s eco­nom­ic empowerment.

For decades, Kenyan women have been at the fore­front of stim­u­lat­ing local economies across the coun­try. They do this through thou­sands of female-led small entre­pre­neur­ship that are often fund­ed through infu­sions of cap­i­tal from thou­sands of women groups. These groups are major pro­po­nents of infor­mal cred­it schemes like table bank­ing. Approx­i­mate­ly 97 per­cent of table bank­ing mem­bers in Kenya are women who save to com­mon kit­ties in their groups then bor­row from such kitties.

How­ev­er, hun­dreds of women groups do not have even the min­i­mal finan­cial mus­cle required to engage in table bank­ing. That’s because of the dire eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion of their mem­bers. One such group is Mlilo Women Group in Tai­ta Tave­ta Coun­ty. It is locat­ed in the hilly region of Sagal­la. Found­ed in 2009, it com­pris­es of fif­teen women who use Kirin­di, a tra­di­tion­al Sagal­la dance to earn mon­ey. Although their dance gigs are few and far between, the dance rev­enue is often their only means of liveli­hood. While they also weave tra­di­tion­al bas­kets, find­ing a mar­ket for these bas­kets remains a con­stant challenge.

Mlilo Women Group exem­pli­fies the resilience and inno­va­tion of women groups all over Kenya. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they oper­ate with­in a con­text of demor­al­iz­ing social and eco­nom­ic chal­lenges. For instance, while women in Kenya have an aver­age of four chil­dren, those in rur­al areas have more. This increas­es their finan­cial bur­den, which fur­ther com­pli­cates their abil­i­ty to earn reg­u­lar revenue.

Fur­ther to this, in 2020, the World Eco­nom­ic Forum released the 2020 Glob­al Gen­der Gap Report. This report revealed that the over­all liv­ing con­di­tions of Kenyan women ranked 109 out of 153 coun­tries. This marked a decrease of 33 from the pre­vi­ous year. Regard­ing the gen­der pay gap women who have a reg­u­lar income are already eco­nom­i­cal­ly dis­ad­van­taged since for Ksh100 that a Kenyan man earns, a woman earns KSh68. Evi­dent­ly, Kenya is let­ting down its women!

It is moral­ly imper­a­tive that equal pay for sim­i­lar ser­vice ren­dered must become a real­i­ty in Kenya.

At a pol­i­cy lev­el, we are duty bound to enact strate­gic poli­cies that will ensure not just equal pay for women, but also advance equal employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. At an entre­pre­neur­ship lev­el, I sug­gest that we devel­op a Kenya Women Eco­nom­ic Recov­ery Pro­gram (KWERP) that will prac­ti­cal­ly ensure wide­spread financ­ing of women-led SMEs. These entre­pre­neur­ships are a mas­sive trig­ger for sus­tain­able liveli­hoods and stronger local economies.

Last year, the World Bank con­duct­ed a sur­vey here in Kenya on women-led busi­ness­es. It revealed that such busi­ness­es have a big­ger invest­ment impact. They sup­port large por­tions of house­hold bud­gets and in so doing uphold the eco­nom­ic well­be­ing of Kenyan families.

The World Bank study fur­ther revealed that, ‘women-led busi­ness­es most­ly employ women, which shows they can be a cat­a­lyst for bring­ing more women into the work­force. About 75 per­cent of the work­ers in female-owned enter­pris­es are women (when exclud­ing the busi­ness own­er), while in male-owned busi­ness­es, only 20 per­cent of employ­ees are women.’

Against this back­drop, it is crit­i­cal for our Nation togeth­er with our devel­op­ment part­ners to sup­port women-led estab­lish­ments. Admirably, orga­ni­za­tions like Envi­ron­men­tal Africa are cur­rent­ly train­ing those danc­ing women in Sagal­la to run the rev­enue wing of their group as a busi­ness. This will mean incor­po­rat­ing a young local entre­pre­neur­ial men­tor to guide them.

How­ev­er, these indomitable women of Sagal­la and thou­sands of oth­er women groups across Kenya need more than hands-on men­tor­ship. They also need fund­ing that will help them craft bet­ter prod­ucts that may appeal to a wider mar­ket. In these con­tem­po­rary hard eco­nom­ic times, I rec­om­mend that we be as pas­sion­ate as the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment in advanc­ing women eco­nom­ic empow­er­ment for sus­tain­able development.

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About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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