Tima Mohamed sat quietly, confidently and spoke with unmistakable humility. For the three days of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), she took charge of part of an exhibition stall of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations - Kenya (FAO Ke).
She is a member of a group based at Shimoni, Kwale County, in the coastal region. Kibuyuni Seaweed comprises mainly women and grows and nurtures sea weed, from which they make soap. It costs Sh250 a piece.
On day one, the High Commission of Canada and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) held a side event, ‘Women of the Blue Economy: Lessons from the field for better equity and participation”. Here, and at a similar one hosted by, among others, Fisheries Department, the challenges of women in this economy, and success stories and opportunities for growth and empowerment, were discussed and shared.
At the Canadian event, a short feature documentary captured stories of a number of women who work in the fisheries in Kenya and Somalia was shown. The women’s experiences as narrated by them are basically similar — mainly their daily struggles to buy fish from fishermen and brokers, although they all live near the ocean, to fend for their families and themselves. They spoke of climate change and related challenges that have reduced fish stocks, pushing them to do menial jobs amid cultural barriers and other obstacles.
But they were clear about what they need: Among other things, better working conditions, market for their fish and more access to opportunities, equipment and storage as well as value addition. In short, they are able to work and do their bit but need some intervention.
Questions were raised on what the government, those in the Blue Economy and interest groups are doing to deal with factors hindering women from prospering in fisheries. Some observed that the women have been reduced to hawkers.
But there is hope.
A week ago, a unique critical initiative which aims at concrete actions to advance and achieve or move closer to gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was launched in Nairobi.
Deliver for Good Kenya brings together about 20 civil society organisations and the government to “inspire action to assist the country to achieve the SDGs and become a gender-equal nation”. It was initiated internationally in 2016 by the Women Deliver, with Kenya the first focus country.
Ms Katja Iversen, president and CEO of Women Deliver, noted that Kenya has a strong and impressive network of advocates for girls and women and has shown a strong commitment to the SDGs.
But it is Crown Princess Mary of Denmark who summed it up, remarking that the campaign would focus on solutions and benefits and the resource that women and girls are rather than focus on their problems because “we know them too well.”.
Prof Margaret Kobia, the Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary observed that the campaign- whose policy priorities are closely aligned with the Government’s Big Four Agenda and it’s commitments to prioritise gender equality at all levels - will be of benefit to Kenyans and help in delivering effectively on national development priorities.
The local coordinating partner is Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (Fida Kenya).
The campaign’s four policy priorities with a focus on SDGs include implementation of National Land Policy’s principles of equitable access to land and secure land tenure in both urban and rural settings.
The other focus is to push for the increase of government contributions to a new programme for financial inclusion designed to offer women, youth and people living with disabilities access to low-interest business loans.
There is also the push for implementation of the National Adolescent Sexual and Health Policy at the county level and effective implementation of the constitutional two-thirds gender policy principle.
The bottom line is, whenever we push for action on gender issues, focus should be on enabling the woman to stand on her own rather than give her a prop that can easily break and make her beg for another one.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected]; @nrugene