A Kenyan woman received a standing ovation after she made an impressive presentation at the UN headquarters in New York about how rural women have benefited from a grassroots farming technology project.
Ms Angelina Francis, a farmer from Kitui County, gave a compelling account of how she succeeded planting and selling tomatoes and maize in her three-acre-farm aided by technology.
She was speaking to a keen and excited audience on the side-lines of the largest gathering on gender equality.
“All my hard work would go to waste when middlemen buy the produce at a throw away price,” Ms Francis, who dropped out of school in Standard Three, told the audience at the Armenian Convention Centre’s Guild Hall.
“I am proud to stand here in New York to address the CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) because of technology, despite my lack of education while I have left behind those with degrees. I am happy to say that given the opportunities and right exposure, women in the rural areas can go places and do a lot to improve their lot,’’ the small-scale farmer, who would occasionally break into Kiswahili, told participants.
She spoke during a presentation by her organisation, Groots Kenya, on “the power of digital technology for accountability in public and political affairs by rural women,’’ organised by African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet).
Among those in the audience was Dr Jennifer Riria, Kenya Women Holding chief executive, and Ms Zanelle Mbeki, wife of former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Ms Winrose Nyaguthii from Laikipia County who also made a presentation and described the organisation, founded in 1995, as a grassroots movement comprising 3,500 women-led groups in 14 counties.
“Communities from these counties with a population of about 22,000 have come together to champion their needs and demand their rights while the organisation’s secretariat offers them technical and financial support,’’ said Ms Nyaguthii.
Ms Esther Mwaura-Muiru, the organisation’s lead champion said the project brings in community leaders to help women achieve economic empowerment.
“Our long-term investment is to support the establishment of community-driven mechanisms and innovations that enable effective participation of grassroots women in decision making and leadership structures in order to ensure that resource allocation, policy and development programmes are responsive to community needs,’’ Ms Muiru explained.
Members use smartphones to access and exchange information that guide them in farming methods and marketing and exchange any other useful messages.
The teams also communicate mainly through WhatsApp groups which have been formed from counties to ward levels, depending on programmes.
“We have been and want to keep on working smart,’’ said Ms Muiru.
Angelina explained that her “inspirational’’ trip to the US had motivated her to lead her colleagues in Kitui to work harder on their farm projects even as they focus on ensuring their rights are not violated through unfair practices.’’
“I will fight hard to ensure that other rural women there can also come this far like me. We will also fight hard and ensure that middlemen do not step in our space to exploit us,’’ she said amid cheers.
She narrated how she had moved from “struggler’’ to a producer of tomatoes and green maize on a piece of land of “between two to three acres.’’
“I have also been able to buy my own motorbike which I use to transport tomatoes and maize to the market. And I make sure I ride it myself,’’ she said in conclusion, receiving another standing ovation.
Among community leaders who support the Groots Kenya programmes is Mr Wycliffe Kombo, a chief from Kakamega County who also made a presentation.
He told of his passion in supporting rural women in the fight against violence and in accessing justice and giving guidance on land use.
This year’s theme is “Commission on the Status of Women Centres on Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Gender Equality and Empowerment of Rural Women and Girls.
The participants, from the UN member nations, will also discuss participation and access of women in media, information and communication technologies “and their impact on and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women.’’