In the highlands of West Pokot, Kenya, farming is the way of life. While UN Women and FAO are developing local techniques to cope with climate stresses, such efforts would be futile without targeting the harmful social norms that exist which hold women – and the region’s broader development – back.
"I felt heart-broken when my daughter became pregnant, she dropped out at 16 years old. I wanted her to have an education but she’s not in a good place now and she has six children," explains Monica Silinyang from West Pokot’s Batei Ward. Monica, also a mother of six, also dropped out of education to focus on childcare in the home, just like her daughter.
This scenario is common in a community that precludes women from even discussion family planning. "It is very difficult to speak to men in the community. To not want children creates suspicion, that you may have someone else. We are expected to comply and there is always a reason to have kids," Monica adds.
However, through targeted community dialogues and wider outreach via radio, women in West Pokot are becoming more vocal on issues of family planning and gender-based violence.
Providing women farmers with the right techniques would be ineffective in a cultural environment where they cannot take decisions and have agency over their family’s livelihood
"Family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights [SRHR] were not intended topics of discussion in the women economic empowerment through the project but once we started, this is what mattered to the women of the community," explains Nelly Wanjiku, from Village Enterprise, UN Women’s implementing partner.
The community outreach work set out to promote broader gender sensitive approaches to role sharing in agriculture as well as promoting women’s agency and collaborative decision-making in the household.
"Providing women farmers with the right techniques would be ineffective in a cultural environment where they cannot take decisions and have agency over their family’s livelihood," explains Elizabeth Obanda, Programme Specialist on Women’s Economic Empowerment. "Gender-based violence prevalence is high in West Pokot, so SRHR issues cannot be excluded when trying to change a community’s mind set, everything is linked," she adds.
Milka Chepkemoi, 32, is a businesswoman from West Pokot who is a member of one of the 27 self-help groups set up by the Women's Economic Empowerment through Climate Smart Agriculture (WEE-CSA) project. She is now beginning to share a more equal role with her husband when it comes to matters of business and their financial plans. Following community discussions on gender equality her husband has been promoting this new approach to his friends and “willing to change others’ opinions in the community," Milka explains.
"Before the project started, there was a rejection or confusion from some households. Many husbands thought it was a programme to influence their wives, make them become more powerful," but Milka believes “most are seeing changes as part of the programme. They are starting to see that combined income benefits the whole household."
Ultimately, this increased knowledge means "no more borrowing money for school fees," concludes Milka. Successful climate smart agriculture is more than adapting farming techniques. Transforming traditional attitudes is also a necessary requirement to strengthen sustainable economic security.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Women - Africa.