Pokot women break cycle of poverty by starting business with beading and growing trees

They are learning about business and finance, taking loans, receiving grants to start earning income.

In Summary

• Many are able feed their families nutritious food, pay school fees and reject FGM and early marriage.

• In getting together to fight poverty, they are also peacemakers in the restive region, speaking out against cattle rustling and crime.

Kenyan themed bracelets
Kenyan themed bracelets
Image: FILE

Pokot women have long been disregarded and disempowered, but now they are not only making and selling beautiful bead necklaces but also starting their own businesses.

Tree-planting business is an alternative means of survival. They learn financial skills and how to run businesses, take loans and replay on time.

The days of being totally dependent upon and subservient to their husbands are gone. Instead of just tending cattle and sitting under trees, men are taught beekeeping for income.

The women have been economically empowered and have acquired skills, opportunities and the tools to pull themselves out of extreme poverty.

They have formed groups and are earning income by turning beads into decorative products besides jewellery, wall decorations, bowls, animals, picture frames and many other items.

For years, bead making has been a traditional activity in the Pokot community, with little economic impact, only personal decoration.

In getting together to fight poverty, they are also peacemakers in the restive region, speaking out against cattle rustling and crime.

Monica Silinyang', 39, from Batei said for many years, they have lived in darkness.

Most were subjected to female genital mutilation, taken out of school, married to older men and burdened by household chores, never realising their potential.

“I didn’t have a chance to go to school. I learned up to Class 7 and got married off," Silinyang' said

“Now, however, I am stronger. We women save money from business, reinvest some and also use the money for school fees, medication and food. We also take loans for capital to start businesses."

“We swap money from our savings from phones. We have also been on tours to see what other women were also doing to raise money.”

She narrated how men didn’t value women as they were not allowed to own property or wealth and were not allowed to participate in decision- making.

“Right now, we work together with our men. Men used to go to sit under trees or look after livestock, while we provided food and did chores,” Silinyang' said.

Village Enterprise Organisation country director Leah Okero said the organisation supports more than 1,000 households every year, with 80 per cent being women in West Pokot county.

“We train them in financial and business skills. We give them grants to start businesses,” she said. 

“Women and their families are eating a balanced diet. Their children can go to school and girls are not subjected to harmful cultural practices like FGM and early marriages. Many young girls have been rescued and are now in school,” Okero said.

Her organisation fights against harmful cultural practices and promotes women in leadership positions.

“We want women to be employed by the national and county governments, to access education and do business so they can be self-reliant," Okero said.

“Women do a lot of chores at home. We want to hear their voices.” 

Perils Chepang’at, an official from Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW) organisation, said women are playing a key role in uplifting society. DSW is a global development organisation focusing on young people.

“We’ve seen a lot of improvement in women’s engagement. They are able to do things by themselves and improve decision-making, social, financial and political areas,” Chepang’at said.

She acknowledged obstacles in the region that derail efforts, capacity and the chances of women achieving their potential.

“FGM is still prevalent in this region at 44 per cent, according to the Kenya Demographic Health report in 2022,” the official said.

Mary Kimani, the country director for the International Tree Foundation (ITF), said women under the Perur Rays of Hope organisation are taking care of the environment to counter climate change, increase landscape cover and restoration by aiming to plant 50,000 trees by April next year.

“A Pokot woman has shown resilience and she has shown the capacity to learn and to embrace knowledge and take hold of her environment,” Kimani said.

She said the women are also engaged in kitchen gardening and raising nurseries as to raise income. Girls are empowered with life skills.

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