Women constitute nearly 60 percent of the world’s 2 billion people living in poverty. Despite all the community development programmes around the world, the feminization of poverty seems to be a growing phenomenon, especially in the developing world. Over the last two decades, the number of rural women living in absolute poverty has risen by 50 percent (compared to 30 percent for men).
The primary cause of the feminization of poverty is gender bias, which prevents women from obtaining the education, training, health services and child care they require to escape poverty. In developing countries, women’s economic activities take place mostly in the non-wage economy, either as unpaid work for the purposes of household subsistence, or as paid work in the informal sector. Women who engage in such work usually are not granted access to land, credit and other resources that improve productivity and would enable them to generate increased income. Even when women are involved in the wage economy, they often receive considerably less remuneration than men.
In Kenya, despite significant progress in the field of women’s empowerment, some major challenges still need to be faced. Women bear the brunt of rural poverty with literacy rates in some areas being as low as 4 percent.
Women’s economic empowerment is an essential element in any strategy for poverty alleviation. And it is this belief that led to the creation of the Lewa Women’s Micro-Credit Programme in 2003. More specifically, our Women’s Micro-Credit Programme was started as result of a close evaluation of the level of poverty within rural women in the communities surrounding Lewa.
Culturally, the women are in most cases left out of the decision-making process, yet they play the key role of holding their families and the entire society together.
Micro-credit is the extension of micro-loans to the unemployed, to poor entrepreneurs and to others living in poverty. These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history and therefore cannot meet even the most minimal qualifications to gain access to traditional credit sources. The Lewa Women’s Micro-Credit Programme supports rural women living in the communities surrounding the Conservancy. We provide them with small loans, so they can initiate micro-enterprises – such as tailoring, homestead retail shops, poultry and agricultural-based activities – to enhance their livelihoods and improve their socio-economic activities. This is one of Lewa’s ways of helping in the fight against the fast-spreading poverty in the region and in supporting women’s empowerment.
The Lewa Women’s Micro-Credit Programme helps local women in three ways:
- By providing independent sources of income outside their home, micro-credit tends to reduce economic dependency of the women on men and thus help enhance autonomy
- The same independent sources of income together with their exposure to new sets of ideas, values and social support make these women more assertive of their rights
- Our Micro-Credit Programme - by providing control over material resources - raises women’s prestige and status in the eyes of men and thereby promotes equality
It has been five years since the inception of the Women’s Micro-Credit Programme and already it has had a big impact on the otherwise voiceless and poor rural Kenyan women in the neighbourhood of Lewa. Over 800 women have benefited from this programme. Our aim is to continue to grow the programme to try and assist as many women in the region as possible. The programme has the following major objectives:
- Promoting the development of women’s micro enterprises
- Training women on entrepreneurship
- Fundraising in support of women enterprises
- Marketing women’s businesses and products
- Facilitating gender equity and access to resources by women
- Supporting development efforts of women living around wildlife conservation areas
- Fostering linkages and liaison with other women development groups
For more information on Lewa Women's Micro-Credit Programme and to find out how you can get involved, please contact our Community Development Manager, John Kinoti at John.Kinoti@lewa.org