Including women in rural governance processes
“There’s no way we can enhance women's participation in leadership, if women continue to look at each other as incapable to lead.” —Caritas Kitui
wards in Kitui West and Mwingi West
with "Wasya wa Mwaitu” Voice of Women and the Catholic Women's Association
January 2015 End date
The inclusion of women voices in governance and politics remains a challenge in rural communities across Kenya. Exclusion is both cultural and systematic, and embedded in wider issues of girls' education and early marriage - to contest for office in Kenya, candidates should have at least post-secondary education; in Kwale County, for example, only 8% of women have a secondary education.
The rise of technology supported governance programmes has seen a focus on internet access and interaction through SMS. However, in reality, women in poor rural areas often don’t have access to basic technology and even if they do, they struggle to engage because of a cultural, economic and language barriers.
Finding meaningful ways for rural women to participate in governance processes requires a more creative approach, tailored to women’s needs and their ability to access tech resources
Caritas-Kitui is using a combination of approaches- some reliant on technology, others not - to take women’s voices out of the home and into the public sphere.
Working with rural women’s groups, the project uses a range of communications tools such as poetry, songs and competitions to include women’s voices in discussion on public issues and to support women’s participation in government decision-making processes.
The project also trained leaders of women’s groups to take part in interactive sessions at partner radio stations, where they meet with elected members of the County Assembly.
This combination of radio and face to face work is helping to challenge perceptions about women's inclusion in public debate, and provide real opportunities for women to stand up together.
Caritas Kitui is the social and development arm of the Catholic Diocese of Kitui. It was established in 1978 as the Development Department and through its 2010 strategic plan changed its name to Caritas Kitui.
Well-known lessons about 'how to conduct effective meetings' are not being translated to government/citizen consultations. With at least 45 minutes observing protocols, then lengthy introductions of who is in the room and a the lack of meaningful Q&A sessions, it's no surprise that meetings are often not productive. Very few meeting organisers gather and share information beforehand and expect participants to come prepared, or keep effective notes for follow up. Because of this, the willingness and energy of people who do show up is often wasted. Simple capacity building on running effective meetings would be a significant boost to better consultations between government and communities - effective inclusion of citizens of citizens doesn't rest on the number of meetings, it rests on the outcomes of those meetings.
Don't assume people aren't willing to change, especially those in government. Devolution is relatively new in Kenya and government employees are often not aware of changes in legislation making public participation a right for all citizens. Go in and show people how you can make their jobs easier, how you can help with platforms that answer their job descriptions. Answer the 'What's in it for me?' question, rather than going in demanding change.
Let's be realistic: changing minds and patterns of behaviours takes years. Short term projects can act as a catalyst for conversations, provide information and link people together, but to create systematic change projects of at least 3 years are needed, not least to help create systems that survive electoral changes.