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Women’s Economic Empowerment in Kenya

File image of a small-holder farmer picking tea leaves from a group-held plantation to be delivered to the Gitugi tea factory in the Othaya division of Nyeri county, (approximately 157 kilometres) north of Nairobi, in the highlands at the foot of the east African nation's highest mountain, Mount Kenya. TONY KARUMBA / AFP

By China House Student Fellows He Ye, 17, Shenzhen College of International Education Ruining Liu, 17, Capital Normal University High School, Liangjing Yi, 17, Shude High School Dujiangyan Foreign Language Experimental School and Xia Zhao, 18, Northfield Mount Hermon School

In the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum, the overall living conditions of Kenyan women ranked 109 out of 153 countries, a decrease of 33 from the previous year. 

The difficulties mainly came from three aspects: health, economy, and traditional culture.

First of all, with regard to the issue of survival, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, each woman in Kenya has an average of 4 children, while women in rural areas with low education or poor families have more. Women are disproportionately affected by AIDS. 6.9% of women aged 15 to 64 are infected with HIV, compared with only 4.4% of men in the same age group.

The source of economic problems is that the main economic system of Kenyan women is based on small-scale farming. A very small number of women own land and their sources of income are very unstable and vulnerable to shocks. Difficulties related to traditional culture are mainly traditional customs that are harmful to women, such as early marriage, circumcision, and polygamy, which hinder the progress of women’s empowerment. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, rape, physical violence and sexual harassment, exacerbates women’s poverty.

And with shortages such as education and financial problems, there are many aspects that people still need to work on in order to improve lives of Kenyan females. Equality, education, health concerning issues, and even the greatest current challenge—COVID 19… these are all issues that people have been trying to solve.

Faith is a manager of a nonprofit organization The Economic Projects Transformational Facility (EPTF). “Kenyan females were still facing challenges and inequalities.” Faith said. She thinks that the problem lies in the belief system.

According to Faith, females in Kenya suffer from a higher drop-off rate from school because of heavy domestic works. Also, females are supposed to balance family situation and works, leading to the gender pay gap.

Indeed, statistics support the existence of wide-ranging forms of gender inequality in terms of economic conditions, social lives, and personal freedom. A report by Equileap released in 2019 shows that for every Sh100 a Kenyan man earns, a woman earns Sh68.

Fortunately, in Kenya, the trend of offering economical helps to women has gradually took its position in all goals aimed by nonprofit organizations. Many organizations have made their efforts in this field, including EPTF where Faith works. The trend of helping Kenyan women by economic means needs to be studied carefully, and thus others will be enabled to support them more efficiently.

Economic Support For Women in Kenya

EPTF is one of the main organizations working in Kenya to improve women’s situations through economic means. EPTF aims to empower entrepreneurs to transform communities. Specifically, EPTF strives to spur enterprise development as a panacea to high unemployment rates among the youths and the ensuing poverty.

“Our works, the main tasks of the economic projects transformation faculty, is to help Kenyan females gain economics independence and therefore confidence and autonomy in lives. ” Faith said.

MEDs is a main program under EPTF. Located in Kwale, the program aims to enhance the social-economic livelihoods of the resource-poor farm households by recruiting and building the capacities of the project participants. For enterprise training, EPTF organizes mentoring projects, providing soft-skill training for business starters and close ties between trainees with the professional persons in formal mentoring and coaching relationships. EPTF works to link women to a primary volunteer mentor who guides their overall development in spiritual and business life.

EPTF also established business clubs within the regions they have worked in, bringing together Alumni to assist them overcome challenges. Within the clubs, works and services including personal development, business development, financial advisory, business networking, and bible studies are given. As a result, a closer community that will continue to benefit from the organization sustainably formed.

Beatrice Awuor, a mother of two boys in high school, is one of the many beneficiaries of EPTF’s programs. The financial burden propelled her to start her own business in 2007. The revenues from selling readymade and second-hand clothes has greatly eased her burden in raising children. Facing challenges in conducting the business in 2017, she gained more artisan skills training in EPTF’s entrepreneurship training in Rhoda, giving her an opportunity to make money through making and selling bleach. With the help of EPTF’s courses, she set up a clearer agenda and business plan for the coming years.

Not only did EPTG’s programs help the immediate participants——the participants continue to impact the community further. As one of the alumni, Awuor gave back to the community by training ladies at the prison to make soaps in the Women’s Prison in Nakuru.

Beside the entrepreneurial courses and skill trainings, EPTF also provides table baking training programs. Table banking is a group based budding system where members of a group make weekly or monthly monetary contributions to form a “bank” from which other members can borrow.

Under MEDS project, Zawadi Chikwakwani Women Group members were trained by EPTF on enterprise development and table banking in 2018. Now, the table banking group has 25 members, saving 270 Shilling every week. They also successfully received grants from the World Bank by submitting a proposal through the Mwache Dam Project. As a consequence, they were able to afford equipment that they wouldn’t have been able to do before.

Women Youth and Children Development Organization (WYCDO) is another prominent organization aiming to enhance economic livelihood of women.

Starting from 1998, WYCDO has been actively engaged with communities and has achieved success in advocating and creating awareness on women and children’s rights. By providing business development courses, linking groups to markets and opportunities, providing services like learning and laundries, and encouraging starts of small enterprises, WYCDO provided females with more lights for lives. For example, in Upendo Dada, women there make beautiful crafts and mats for sale.

The Challenges That Confront NGOs

Although the non-governmental organizations have achieved many positive impacts and made improvements to situations of women in Kenyan, the challenges encountered in their works shouldn’t be ignored for the purposes of understanding the big picture more comprehensively.

“The complexity of problems is always the challenge. When you tackle one thing, then they still gasp something else.” Said by Terry from WYCDO.

Though the work has been successfully operated by women, the market is not always stable. Especially when COVID-19 came, hitting aviation industry, various countries release travel restriction. This significantly damaged Kenya’s economy, including those women who rely on tourists to buy their artifacts. Data from the International Air Transport Association show that since the outbreak, the economy of Kenya has lost $4.4 billion.

When we were collecting resources, we tried to invite an artifacts organization to do a interview, an organization which helps desperate women to get together in stitching, to achieve women empowerment. However, they refused us because of the shock of COVID-19. The organization has been forced to close since the last week of March.

The recent report issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) shows that affected by the spread of the COVID-19, Africa’s economic growth rate in 2020 may drop from the original forecast of 3.2% to 1.8%. Damage to the tourism industry, reduction in foreign direct investment, capital flight, slowing of investment, etc. will aggravate unemployment in Africa.

These circumstances will exacerbate the economic crisis faced by the disadvantaged groups, especially women, in Kenya. With many NGOs forced to shut down or shut down due to insufficient funding, the difficulties and challenges faced by women are far greater than those they encountered before the epidemic.


In retrospect to the institutions we have investigated, whether they are personal support similar to Grameen Bank, or from economic benefits to education and health, we have seen the development of activities to help people. Most of the people who work here have different cultural backgrounds, but here they unite to achieve a clear positioning of themselves.

Actively learning the production of handicrafts, forging personal core leadership, these skills training make them more confident and also let them begin to have their own unique value. But at the same time, the outbreak of the epidemic is testing the unity of enterprises, institutions, and cohesion. The road is obstacle-packed and long. None of these issues has a ready-made answer, but we can find out where they should go in the future.

Despite the challenges and long-rooted gender differences in opportunities, the good news is that things are changing for the better. With new policies and the emergence of organizations like EPTF and WYCDO, females are granted more rights and led out of poverty. In 2010, in the Kenya constitution, discrimination towards Kenyan women was forbidden. A new section of women started to take roles in the government as well. Though problems still exist, new prospects and opportunities await.

“The construction of sustainable mechanisms of economic emancipation and support for underprivileged females in Kenya will be a long process. But we’ll continue working in the field”. Concluded by Faith, with a hopeful tone.

China House is a social enterprise that brings young Chinese to the global south for research, conservation activities and development projects.

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