There are many examples from across the world where women have come to terms with the inequities in their lives, finding ways to address some of these, using unique methods and strategies. They have been known to rely on support groups, pooling in resources as a means of empowering themselves and developing each other.
In Kenya, women networks that in local parlance are referred to as ‘chama’ have been instrumental in creating financial freedom, security, gainful employment and an environment that makes them feel worthwhile and valued. In a ‘chama’, women rally behind one another to address their socio-economic needs, based on a shared understanding of their social conditioning and domestic scenario.
For centuries, women had been involved in agriculture and farm activity, with neither their contribution acknowledged within the household and community and nor did they have the good fortune to see their cows producing enough milk to be sold. By forming a women’s group they provided each other solutions, creative insights, financial strengthening and emotional support.
For a long time, the Heifer Project International tapped into women networks as a means of empowering communities through placement of cows. Likewise, the East Africa Dairy Development Project (EADD) worked with various women networks to extend the benefit of commercial dairy farming to households, many of which were female headed.
The Initiative: Forming women’s groups and equipping them with knowledge and skills
The Kemeliet dairy management group was formed as a network in the year 2008 by a group of women eager to participate in the economic development initiated by EADD. Some of the 18 members of the group already had heifers and were selling milk to the informal market to earn a living. Earlier, most of the businesses were registered in the name of the man as the head of the household or jointly as spouses. This meant that women did not get to share the full benefit. By becoming part of the group, they became an integral part of the project which allowed them to access contextual workable strategies.
Women of all ages enrolled in the programme. As registered members, they doubled up as community mobilisers and treasurers for the dairy cooperative, commanding respect from their peers, men and women alike. Some of went on to establish a fodder farm, using it also to train fellow farmers. This resulted in significant jump in milk production in the area. Through the trainings other female dairy farmers adopted artificial insemination and improved animal feeding practices. They gained immensely from the knowledge on record keeping, establishing and managing fodder pastures and reaping benefits of inseminating cows to improve breeds for high milk yields.
According to village bankers who were part of the project, women were much better at using their money. They not only saved but took loans to expand their homesteads, start businesses and put their children through school. This stimulated local economies and brought about prosperity.
What did EADD specifically do
• Promoted smallholder dairying as a privileged entry point to gender equality and women empowerment
• Rooted for effective participation of women, recognising their long standing traditional role in small scale dairying and the vital contribution dairy makes to poor households
• Developed participating families to be able to double incomes from their dairy enterprises, improved production and productivity and access to gainful markets
• Provided access to relevant education, training and scientific and technological innovations- in animal breeding, feeding, health care, milk quality handling and markets- by farming families
Making the women dairy groups a thriving, vibrant and successful enterprise
Implementing a gender integration strategy: This helped provide access to relevant education, training and scientific and technological innovations in animal breeding, feeding, health care, milk quality handling and markets. The gender integration strategy developed in 2009 identified key issues and multiple strategies. The staff gender trainings in 2010 raised awareness and confronted teams with the relevance of gender in the local context. This created a vibrant environment within which these women-led dairy groups thrived and their success uplifted the standards of living of their families and communities. In some places it was the effort of a single woman dairy farmer that brought about such a phenomenal change in the entire village.
Opening a joint milk supply account: Members of the group opened a joint milk supply account with the Tanyikina Dairy Plant. Under this they bulked their milk and sold it as a group. Income from the milk sales went directly to a Group Education Fund kitty which they collectively set up. Through the kitty, members got loans for upgrading their dairy cows to better breeds, school fees for their children and attend to other needs that may arise. One of the women members was assigned the task of rallying/mobilising other women together to join the group. Members earn an average monthly income of Kshs 10,000 ($125) from milk sales.
Undertaking intensive animal husbandry: EADD helped provide them with training in fodder establishment, animal health care, silage making and water harvesting. Working with the women was easier for the EADD trainers and gender and youth coordinators since they had already
organised themselves into a group. As a group, these members could access training and other services very easily. The group also provided them with a sense of belonging, boosting their economic status and self-esteem. Together, they became influential and by opening a joint milk supply account they felt empowered financially, economically and even socially.
When women are in charge of income, it is a proven strategy for improving the health, nutrition and education of their children. Seeing the success in Kenya, EADD is now planning to implement this strategy and good practice in other regions too, encouraging women to fully participate in project activities, including buying shares from the dairy plants.
East Africa Dairy Development News. Celebrating our Women Dairy Farmers [Internet]. 2011 March; Vol 7 [cited 2015 Oct 6]. Available from: http://9dc3f407a257cfd3f7ea-d14ef12e680aa00597bdffb57368cf92.r6.cf2.rackcdn.com/Success_Stories/East_Africa_Dairy_News.pdf