Last Tuesday, a group of about 100 women from rural counties converged on the Christian Leadership Centre, otherwise known as Ufungamano House, in Nairobi for one of those rare moments when they get to “talk to the world” about what they do and, hopefully, be heard.
While their live audience was really nothing to write home about in terms of numbers, that did not deter them; they were just happy to exchange ideas, challenges and experiences.
They were here to mark the International Day of Rural Women, established by the United Nations to recognise the contribution and vital role the rural and indigenous woman plays globally in enhancing agriculture, food security, poverty alleviation and, generally, in rural development.
In Africa, women who live and work in rural areas play a huge role in the sustainability of families, nutrition and the general well-being of communities given that they do the bulk of the work in agriculture, including providing the most labour in the critical industry, and their invaluable contribution to informal work.
The discussion on hours rural women and girls spend on unpaid care and domestic work in agriculture and related sectors such as water and health did not escape the audience.
To-date, there are people who sneer at such debates or discussion, with the argument that this kind of work is a preserve of the woman, especially rural ones. But this should not be the case.
First, it is critical — and that was generally the line of argument — that we recognise that rural women spend more hours in unpaid and domestic care work than the men. But discriminatory cultural practices and social norms and structural hindrances restrict them from decision making and participating in community development, even on the household front.
As a way of righting this cultural wrong and ensuring gender equality and equity in rural development, however, it is critical for both levels of government, civil society and related agencies to do more in empowering the rural woman.
Groots Kenya, a national movement of grassroots woman-led community-based organisations and self-help groups, rightly acknowledges that there still is much to be done in the empowerment of rural women.
This is in spite of the “great” strides in transforming their lives economically, politically and socially nearly 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action and half a decade of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These areas include equality in ownership and control of land. Data from the lobby Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) indicates that of the three million title deeds issued in 2013-2017, only 10.3 per cent went to women.
Groots is harvesting data in a bid to empower the rural woman, such as ending discrimination in land reforms.
The real economic empowerment of rural women must include their being fully involved and recognised in land ownership.
Other data from the KLA and Groots on the percentages of men and women who hold title deeds draws a grim picture: The woman has been locked out. It is crucial to heed calls for a transparent, open, just, inclusive and accountable process of appointing land control board members for the next term.
At Tuesday’s event, Groots said their recent assessment showed deputy county commissioners, who chair land boards, had chosen to appoint new members in a translucent manner instead of advertising them as required. Of course, this lacks fairness and guarantee of gender equality and inclusivity.
I agree with the argument by women’s rights organisations that grassroots rural women need to be in the land boards to curb the vile culture of illegal transfers of matrimonial property without spousal consent.
Indeed, with barriers, especially in decision-making and land ownership, how will the rural woman be expected to access credit and develop herself, family and even community and fight poverty?
Ms Rugene is consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene