From On-lookers to Active Participants: How the Voice of Citizens has Transformed Governance in Kwale


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.

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Catherine Kamatu
Author: Catherine Kamatu
Communications Officer

KHRC Repository