The only way to truly understand cultural perceptions is to talk to the members of the community – so I did just that. I had two great interviews with women in power and the men who work alongside them.
19.07.2010 - 21.07.2010 68 °F
As I’ve mentioned before I am working alongside one of the PhD students, Miriam Rotich, who is associated with IGERD (Institute for Gender Equity Research and Development). We’ve compiled a list of people I should meet and talk with before I head back to Nairobi next week. In addition to the meeting with Chief Letting of Kesses Location, I also had the opportunity to speak with the Divisional Youth Officer, Janeliza Mwaudende, District officer for Kapseret, Faith Masika, and female councilors of Wareng county, Councilor Josphine Tarus of Cheptiret ward, Councilor Elizabeth Sang of Kepchamoo ward, and Councilor Judith Sang of Kapseret ward.
Officer Mwaudende of the Divisional Youth office works with youths out of school who have either completed up to form three but not class 8. The different organizations she facilitates, including youth and employment, youth and the environment, youth crime and drugs, youth leisure and sports, youth fund and kazi kwa vijana (work for youths). These organizations were created to get those who are not completing an education involved in the community and hopefully enable them to finish their education and become an asset to the Kesses community. We talked a lot about furthering education and some of the obstacles the youth of Kesses encounter – especially the difference between males and females and Officer Mwaudende explained that there is a stigma behind furthering education; many families are satisfied with their lifestyles and see their main priority to make use of the available land and to marry and have families. It was Officer Mwaudende’s perception that women are still stuck with the mentality that their main goal is to marry and start a family. The only way we discussed that could turn around this mentality is to have community based civic education in which sex education is discussed and the opportunities there are for the town. “Economic empowerment” is a term that many of the council members used to describe what they think would inspire change. Funding is necessary, but the ideas and the will to induce change is needed most in the area.
Our next meeting was with the District Officer for Kapseret, Faith Masika. There are not many women in Officer Masika’s position and what makes her even more unique is that she is one of the younger individuals in this position (men and women included). Faith spoke with Miriam and I about the adult education programs and women’s microfinance groups which allow women to work together to raise funds for unexpected expenses, additional agricultural investment and children’s school fees. With both the adult literacy programs and the women’s microfinance groups, women do not want their husbands to know that they are participating in these groups. There are cultural pressures on women to maintain the status as a housewife and mother and not to continue their education or to procure their own finances. Despite these pressures, there are many women (and men) who have taken their KCB examination. Within the last year, 80 women and 70 men received their primary certificates. These programs are sponsored through the government and offices like Faith Masika’s help organize and set up the programs.
The greatest benefits from the program, according to Officer Masika, are that the living standards have increased for the women and families who participate in these programs. Women are becoming more aware and conscious of national and community issues and are now participating to help induce change where change needs to happen. My meeting with Faith Masika verified my personal philosophy that increasing education has a direct impact on the community participation and growth. Additionally though, the major issue is that there are still women who are hiding the fact they want to continue their education (which was cut short due to early marriage and pregnancy or lack of funds) which means there are still many women who are not even willing to come out to the meetings or classes for fear their husbands will reject their requests. This mentality is limiting the growth the area could have. Within the last 2 years, Eldoret has been built up and has recovered from the post-election violence in 2007, but it has not reached its potential yet and there are many who are struggling to make wages high enough to support themselves and their families.
I asked Faith the question I ask each of the officers I’ve interviewed – are there international aid or groups who participate within the community. She responded the way many of the others have, “there were many groups here to help in the early months of 2008 after the election violence” (which hit Eldoret the hardest of anywhere in the country). There were groups such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Red Cross and programs which came to build up schools in Kiambaa and Kamuyu, but other than those who responded right after the election violence, there hasn’t been many within Eldoret itself. (I heard from the Ministry of Education for Kesses who explained the role of PeaceLinks SNV and SOS within the different smaller communities. )
Officer Masika did explain that there is an annual capacity building and training seminar on Women’s day that speaks to women in the community. They discuss equal opportunities, the women’s and men’s roles as parents, and how women can empower themselves through education and participation. She said that it is a very inspiring program for those who attend, but that attendance rates need to go up and there needs to be more community support for Women’s Day activities throughout the year.
My next visit was with 3 of the 6 female councilors of the County Council or Wareng. There are 35 councilors total in which women only make up 1/5 of the council. I also had 2 of the auditors for the county sit in and join our discussion. These women gave a lot of insight on the struggle it is to become elected even at the local level. Doris and Rhoda are both in their third year of office and neither have completed their post secondary studies. Rhoda was an active farmer in the community and Doris was a clerk for a secondary school. Both women explained that their roles as councilors is to go into the communities and to see what needs done within the community and then set a plan in action to make it happen. They look at dilapidated schools and different infrastructure programs that need readjusted. They started talking about women’s enterprises groups and self-help groups, in which she said these are still ongoing with women in the community and they collect money and give loans to those within the group. This concept seems to be popular within Kenya more so than the harambe groups that were nationally known. Harambe means literally translates into “pull together!” and was a common phrase and idea during elections. The same mentality exists in the US – politicians make promises to help communities grow but after elections are over, there is little follow through.
We talked a lot about the role of women and the difference between the men and women when it came to the family and even within the council. The women I was talking to began discussing these topics like they were the latest gossip. Many of them stated that women are the ones in the community and households who take the initiative to speak up and insist that change happen whether it be for the children to go to school or that a road needs to be tarmacked or that there needs to be a peace settlement between neighbors. The reason women’s groups work is because that they embrace the idea of harambee and know that unless they work together, their community will not be adjusted and modified as it needs to be. They each mentioned their own anecdotes about where women worked more efficiently together compared to the men and despite these occurrences, men still ran the government and held public office.
Free Primary Education is always a topic of discussion because there are many different views and opinions of its effectiveness. As always, they remarked that the student-teacher ratio was too high and that the funds allocated to pay the teachers is not sufficient. There are higher enrollment rates for girls compared to boys in primary school but by secondary school, there are more boys than girls. Girls are expected to marry, they become pregnant or they are forced into illegal employment ‘opportunities’ such as prostitution or selling of mtumba to make money for the family. The schools which have the lower drop-out rates for girls are the boarding schools because they are kept in school and are not exposed to the harsh realities many of their peers in day school experience. Then again, boarding school is more expensive and is not covered under the Free Primary Education Act. But in regards to community development and education, ignorance is now being faced with positive thinking and development is occurring as a result. Girls are seeing women in power and women who are fighting for them to receive an education which paves a path for girls to follow in their footsteps.
The problem though is today’s school age generation does not want to go into the teaching profession. They see their teachers as low-paid civil servants and the majority who have their teaching degrees are no employed due to the low budgets for hiring teachers. Also they see the strain on their teachers trying to teach more students than is realistically able to be taught. It is a financial and mental strain on these teachers.
The women council said that there have been some scam NGOs that were operating after the election violence but they were caught. The problem is, now communities are hesitant to accept the help of NGOs due to the negative past experiences. The women councilors recommended that NGOs be monitored more, as should the community spending, and there be a closer interaction between the donors and those being sponsored. Many of the NGOs don’t even come into Eldoret and see how their programs are working. Some of the positive programs mentioned were SOS schools for orphans and Kentrum farmers who sponsor greenhouses, and train and facilitate the market in the area.
Councilor Judith works with disabled individuals and she said that the neglect towards girls is the same as the neglect toward the disabled in the community. But she said that the other councilors are supportive of the proposals shes made for handicapped ramps, schools that help disabled children and employment centers for the disabled. Judith brought up a great point that gave an optimistic look toward the future. She said that although there are only a few female councilors, they support one another’s projects and make sure they are addressed and executed. So as more time goes on, more projects will be completed and the alliances between these women will continue for years to come. There are two women MPs in the Eldoret area, Professor Margaret Kamaar and Hon. Peris Siam, and these women leading at the national level empower women to run at the local level within their jurisdictions because they have the support from above.
I’ll finish this post with their recommendation to girls. Girls need guidance and to be walked through the steps of success and the only way to do this is through example. The Councilors love their jobs because they go into the community, they see what needs done and the majority of the time they can make it happen. The girls in the community and schools see women doing things and making a direct impact in the community and they are optimistic about their chances for the future. They also ask girls to stay locally “even for just a bit” to help build the community after they receive an education because that is the only way Eldoret can grow into a positive community. They hope through their example and self-help groups that girls will realize they have the means to have a reputable profession, to obtain independence and confidence to break the cultural barriers which have kept them trapped.
My next post I’ll give an overview of my talk with the Ministry of Education and how we learned from one another and plan to start an international partnership once I return home! Hope you all enjoy my blogs as I enjoy sharing them with you. See you all in 20 days!