Women follow proceedings during a public meeting called by the County Government in Kinondo Ward
Before the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in Au- gust 2010, the Kwale woman was a frail, shy being who would sit in public meetings through- out the session and leave with- out uttering a word, save for the self-introduction session. But with the coming to force of devolved government, the Kwale woman has steadily grown from a mere spectator and cheerleader of her male counterparts to active participant in the public affairs.
The difference between the pre-devolution woman and the current Kwale woman can be measured in one major way: The budget making process of 2014-2015 fiscal year saw only a handful of women present in the equally poorly attended meetings organized by the county government. In contrast, during a similar exercise this year, there was a tremendous increase in the number of female participants in the various wards. Women of all ages did not only at- tend the forums, they also had a big say in how they wished their welfare should be factored in the proposed budget. A number of women this writer spoke with during the process attributed the huge presence of women in the budget making process and other public forums to the sensitization and awareness that has been created by Kwale Human Rights Network. “Elimu ambayo tumekuwa tukipata kuhusu masala ya kijinsia imetujenga mno, na sisi wachache ambao tumefani- kiwa kupata hiyo nafasi, tunaendelea kusambaza ujumbe kote, kwani sisi kina mama tumegundwa kuwa habari ndiyo silaha ya kupigana na ujinga”… “Education we have been getting on gender issues has built our capacity a great deal; and the few of us who have had this opportunity have continued to share the information we get with other women. As women, we have discovered that information is the weap- on with which to fight ignorance,” says Asha Bakari Chimweri, the chairperson of Sauti ya Wanawake-Msambweni Chapter. Kibibi Rashid Mwaka, the chairperson of Kwale Human Rights Network stunned a gathering during the International Women’s day celebrations at Nyumba Mbovu in Kinondo Ward, when she opened her hand bag and asked the audience if they had seen the little book she was holding. When the crowd answered in the negative, she took that opportunity to give the gathering a short lecture. “This book is called the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP),” she informed the startled audience which included the Msambweni Member of Parliament Suleiman Dori and a host of Members of the County Assembly.
This book, she explained, “contains a comprehensive development plan for the next five years and it is a pity that you may not have contributed to its development,” she warned and urged women to ensure that they took part in the development agenda of the county by giving their views on issues affecting them. But women empowerment has not ended in governance issues.
The women saccos in Kinango Sub-county have transformed dramatically since they began associating with Kwale Huri- net in the citizen’s voice project. “We have bought assets for our members and helped members to educate their children through loans apart from being capacity built to aim higher,” Says Blandina Tatu, chairperson of Kinango Women Sacco. Other areas where women have done well following the inception of the project in Kwale include agriculture and cottage industry. The project’s success is also attributed to the cooperation of the leaders of the decentralized units and the cordial relationship the funding agency The Aga Khan Foundation enjoys with the county government.