Affirmative Action

Empowering Rural Women Sure Way to Combating Poverty

Posted on 18 October 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Poverty |

Studies Pay Off For Young Maasai Woman – How Simantoi Kilama Bought Her Family Shoes

With determination, hard work, and the right tools, Simantoi Kilama went from growing up hungry in Kenya to earning enough money to buy her family shoes and food. Listen to Simantoi tell her story and hear how far empowering women can go.

Like many women in poor countries, the women of the Maasai tribe in Eastern Kenya face barriers that keep them from lifting their families out of poverty. Many do not receive a single day of education, are not able to earn their own income, and are forced to marry and have children at ages as young as 12 or 13 – perpetuating a cycle that keeps entire families poor. But, as Simantoi Kilama shows us, giving women in poor countries economic opportunities can turn this cycle around.

Simantoi Kilama, a native Maasai woman who grew up without electricty or adequate food, is living proof that investing in women is the best way to end poverty. A recent nursing school graduate sponsored by the Maasai Girls Education Fund, a partner of the Women’s Edge Coalition, Simantoi is using income she earns as a nurse to end poverty for her loved ones – buying her family food, medical care, and essentials such as shoes to protect their feet while they work.

Listen to Simantoi’s inspiring story of hard work, hope, and economic empowerment in an interview conducted by Barbara Lee Shaw, Executive Director of the Maasai Girls Education Fund:

Innovative policies such as the GROWTH Act can spread opportunities to millions of other women like Simantoi, helping to remove many of the economic barriers they face, and empowering them to build better futures for themselves, their families, and their countries. Click here to sign the GROWTH Act petition.

Simantoi in traditional Maasai clothing

Simantoi working as a nurse

Each month, Simantoi invests at least 15% of her income in her family’s future.

(Simantoi is on the far left and her mother is the second to the right)

Photo Credits: Barbara Lee Shaw

Click here to learn more about the Maasai Girls Education Fund’s work

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Nurse Opens Clinic in Nairobi Slum

Posted on 8 October 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Public Health |

When Public Meets Private – The Story of a Nurse Turned Entrepreneur

To meet Dorah Nyanja you have to zig zag your way through the narrow and winding alleys of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, home to close to 1 million people and situated in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi.

Once you are deep into the heart of this landscape made up of tin roofs and muddy shacks, you will come face to face with a gentle and focused healer who, besides working 12-hour shifts and being the mother of three children, is a registered nurse and a successful entrepreneur running her own health clinic in one of the most challenging urban environments you can imagine. “Every day I encounter at least one case of abortion-related complications,” says Nyanja as she swings open the door of her two-room clinic, one used for consultations and the other one for examinations. “Not to mention the regular ailments I always come across such as malaria, opportunistic infections, upper respiratory diseases and dysentery.”

Though she could be working in a posh Nairobi private hospital, this energetic 30-year-old nurse has deliberately chosen to serve the poorest of the poor in an area that has a population density of 82,000 residents per square kilometre.

It all started 18 months ago, when she saw an advertisement in a local newspaper by the HealthStore Foundation (formerly known as SHEF) seeking qualified health professionals who wanted to set up their own private practice. “I used to work in a nursing home but wanted to return to my community and do something for my people. I wanted to teach them basic health practices. This society suffers because there are many quacks and not enough trained people,” Nyanja says.

She applied for a loan and got selected. She is now one of 65 Kenyan entrepreneurs, for the most part women, supported by the HealthStore Foundation, an organization that developed a franchise of micro pharmacies branded as the Child and Family Wellness Shops (CFW Shops) whose mission is to provide access to essential medicines to marginalized populations in developing countries. The company describes itself as having a market-driven approach that combines micro-enterprise principles with proven franchise business practices to create a micro-franchise model. It is, in other words, a socially responsive version of a McDonald’s chain that caters to basic health needs in poor communities.

In Kenya the Foundation has four outlets in Kibera while the rest are in the western and Nyanza regions of the country, both underdeveloped rural areas. CARE is supporting the Foundation through its CARE Enterprises Partners, a unit that seeks to link the informal sector with the formal economy. “CARE supports innovative market-based approaches, like the HealthStore model, that address issues of poverty and have the potential of becoming self sustaining,” explains Jiwa Farouk, director of the CARE Enterprise Partnership. Similar and equally successful projects have already been undertaken in the areas of horticulture and animal husbandry. “The idea,” continues Farouk, “is to move away from ongoing donor support and to enable the market to cater to specific needs of the community.”

The franchise network operates two types of outlets: the basic drug shop run by community health workers and clinics operated by nurses like Dorah Nyanja who provide a longer list of essential medicines as well as basic primary care. “Dorah is one of our most successful entrepreneurs,” says Esther Njuguna, executive director of HealthStore Foundation Kenya. “Initially the goal was to provide only basic medicines but it soon became clear that women need help with child deliveries as well as guidance on how to treat basic ailments.”

Nyanja sees an average of 65 patients a day, about five patients per hour in a 12-hour day, a clear indication of the thirst for services in this overpopulated and neglected area of Nairobi. Since the Senye Community Clinic has opened its doors in May 2006, the average number of monthly clients has risen from 350 to more than 1,300, and Nyanja’s monthly turnover has gone from $879 to $1,500. This has enabled Nyanja to hire an assistant whom she has trained in delivering babies. There is an average of four to five deliveries per day. Though currently successful, the clinic’s startup phase was rough. Finding a good location was particularly challenging. “It took me months to find this place,” says Nyanja. “I walked around so much that my third baby was born premature.”

Then there was the issue of security, as slums are notoriously high in crime, as well as the need to find a place with access to safe water and a reliable power supply. And since the majority of people in Kibera live on less than $1 a day, paying for basic health services can be a real struggle. To help the poorest, Nyanja waives the 30 shillings (US 44 cents) consultation fee for those unable to pay, while sticking to the fixed rate for the medicines she sells over the counter. Nyanja prefers not to skip the consultation altogether as she wants to, in her own words, “change the mentality about over the counter drugs,” in Kenya.

Over the next three years HealthStore aims to expand the network in Kenya to 200 outlets, serving up to 1.5 million patients visits per year. “The idea is to expand in concentric circles, in order to maximize services and increase the density of coverage,” explains Njuguna. But, she adds, one of the hardest tasks will be to recruit nurses like Nyanja, who are highly qualified, compassionate and with a sound business mind.

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Kenya Mothers: Agony of Giving Birth in Public Clinics

Posted on 4 October 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Public Health |

Photo: Tiggy Ridley/IRIN
The women complain of abuse and neglect before and during delivery

NAIROBI, (IRIN) – Margaret Wanjiru would rather forget the experience of having her first baby at one of the public hospitals in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

“I remember going to the hospital in 2001. I was in pain, like most of the other women, but we were made to sit on a wooden bench and were not allowed to go into the labour ward without paying,” Wanjiru recalled.

Once in the ward, there were a lot of insults: “You are asked to spread your legs ‘like you did for your husband’,” she said.

According to a report, Failure to deliver, prepared by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), there are numerous challenges facing women in Kenya’s health facilities, including suffering abuse and neglect before and during delivery.

This includes being forbidden to enter hospitals without enough money for a deposit, and not being allowed to have family members on the premises or during delivery, according to the report.

According to Wanjiru, the female nurses are often very cruel, while the men are better.
“They [the nurses] are also old enough to be our mothers so we cannot answer back when they insult us,” she said, “Sometimes they beat you up and say that you are pretending yet you are in pain.”

According to the report, the women are also subjected to unreasonable delays waiting for suturing or to poor stitching. Due to insufficient beds, sharing is common, with those women who fail to pay ending up on the floor.

Free deliveries

The ministry of health has instituted a maternity health waiver allowing for free deliveries in health centres and dispensaries. This is intended to encourage more women to give birth in medical facilities while decongesting hospitals like Pumwani in Nairobi – the largest and busiest maternity hospital in East and Central Africa.

However, Wanjiru is not optimistic. “We were being mistreated even when we were paying, how about now that it is free?”

Elisa Slattery, legal adviser of the CRR’s Africa programme, says the violation of women’s rights in Kenya is widespread, systematic and has been going on for decades.

Women are abused before and after receiving reproductive health services, Slattery said.

Poor record-keeping means increased patient waiting time, with only 23 percent of the facilities conducting reviews of maternal or newborn deaths or near-misses, she said.

Women also often lack access to contraceptives of their choice in some health facilities.

“Women are often abused verbally and physically,” she said. “While motherhood is valued, there are many problems associated with it.”

Photo: Gregory Di Cresce/IRIN
The cost of delivery at a private hospital is prohibitive

Private clinics

The situation is, however, different in most private health facilities, according to Ruth Otieno*, a nurse working at a private hospital in Nairobi.

“We do not keep the women waiting and our labour ward is always ready as our clients are aware of their rights and the kind of service to expect,” Otieno said.

Moreover, at the end of their hospital stay, she said, the clients fill in a questionnaire assessing the quality of care provided.

The cost of a “normal” delivery, without including other charges, such as for the bed and consultation, at a private hospital is a prohibitive 30,000 shillings (US$448).

According to Otieno, the overwhelming burden of delivering many babies daily in public hospitals prevents the nurses from having a one-to-one relationship with the patients. Most public health facilities often lack trained personnel, medical equipment and bed space; in addition, staff are poorly paid.

Women in Kenya have a 1-in-25 lifetime risk of dying from a pregnancy-related cause, with at least 20 percent of all births being unwanted and another 25 mistimed, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey for 2003.

Low morale

The chief clinical officer with the ministry of health, Alfred JBO Odhiambo, said: “The violation of patients’ rights occurs in isolated cases.” He argued that the number of staff should be increased, along with the improvement of salaries and the provision of adequate medical equipment, to improve morale.

More health centres have been opened all over the country to decongest the main hospitals, thus allowing for improved care of patients, he added.

''Women are often abused verbally and physically…while motherhood is valued, there are many problems associated with it''

The hospitals now have a customer relations desk to improve service delivery. “We have made mistakes in the past which we are now correcting.”

The health ministry has seconded some staff to work with the local government ministries responsible for some of the understaffed hospitals.

It is important that the medical personnel have a human touch, he said, adding that the cooperation of patients was also important. “Some of the clients already have negative attitudes towards nurses.

“We are changing how we handle clients and there is now a service charter spelling out what needs to be done across the board,” he said.

According to Slattery, government guidelines on patients’ rights should be disseminated widely so women are aware of their rights.

Recent government efforts to improve public health facilities seem to be paying off, albeit slowly, according to Wanjiru. The hospitals seem cleaner and the nurses help patients make their beds and there are also mosquito nets, she said.

“Since most women lack the funds to go to private health facilities there is a need for improvement of the public ones,” she said.

*Not their real names

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Half Of Us Are Female, But Only 10 Of Our Leaders Are

Posted on 30 August 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action |

Interesting Graph of Good Magazine is reminding all people of goodwill that while half of the world’s population is female, only 10 women occupy positions of national leadership in the whole world. In other words, world leaders are 95% male and only 5% female!


This web log certainly hopes that Kenyan MPs will take note of this unbalanced statistics and that Kenyan voters will do justice and improve the gender percentage in our parliament and civic bodies in the next term by voting in more women candidates.Kenyan voters will also have done the country a great service in voting in more women as it will help Kenya towards meeting Millennium Development Goal No. 3 which aims to Promote Gender Quality and Empower Women.

With the general elections around the corner, this web log is offering free publicity to women aspirants as its contribution to assisting prospective women candidates.

Women aspirants are encouraged to leave a comment below and the editor will contact them via e-mail in order to obtain digital photos and development plans for your respective constituencies or civic areas. These will be published in this blog for free.

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Worldwide, Women Seek Greater Political Representation

Posted on 23 August 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action |

WASHINGTON, Aug 22 (OneWorld) – Around the world countries have managed varying levels of success in assuring equal political participation and representation for women. But activists are working as hard as ever to secure unbiased opportunities for women and men alike in the political sphere.

Women at a political rally in Nigeria.
Women at a political rally in Nigeria. © Centre for Development and Population Activities

Last week the Kenyan government dealt a huge setback to equity-minded activists and politicians as it rejected a bill that would have reserved 50 seats in its parliament for women. The bill, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, was left in limbo as roughly half the members of parliament departed the building ahead of the vote.

With only 18 (8 percent) female representatives in a 222 seat parliament, Kenya trails far behind neighboring Tanzania, where women occupy 30 percent of the parliamentary posts. Even impoverished Rwanda, still struggling to recover from years of civil war, boasts a 49 percent representation in its lower house.

The situation is not necessarily better in many more developed nations. The Council of Europe has shown great concern recently over signs of disproportionate and gendered representation in the European political sphere.

At a 2003 meeting of the Council’s Committee of Ministers, participants agreed on the necessity of ”balanced participation in decision making bodies.” In order to facilitate action and measure effectiveness, the Committee established that “the representation of either women or men [in any given political body] should not fall below 40 percent.”

But by 2005 Sweden was still the only country in which the national parliament met this benchmark. Although several countries, including the remaining Scandinavian nations, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, came close to meeting the criterion, “in half of Europe, the representation of women was below 20 percent and seven countries had less than 10 percent” representation — Albania, Armenia, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Turkey, and Ukraine.

A parallel state of affairs was witnessed in the respective national governments as well as the Council of Europe.

Responding to these challenging statistics, the Committee of Ministers considered a variety of measures that might encourage and sustain women’s pursuit of political careers.

Angela Merkel, the first female Chancellor of Germany.
Angela Merkel, the first female Chancellor of Germany. © North-South Centre of the Council of Europe

One of these programs, widely recognized in the United States as Affirmative Action, revolved around the implementation of quotas. The Committee of Ministers concluded that such a system is not only controversial and discriminatory but may also raise questions regarding the competence of employees. Furthermore, the Ministers feared that quotas may simply reinforce the status quo unless they are “sufficiently ambitious.”

Accordingly, the legal quotas remain few and far between in Europe as most governments prefer to invest in “various forms of voluntary targets.”

Indeed, the representation of women in European parliaments has improved since the 2005 statistics were taken. Partly thanks to initiatives that raise awareness and set new norms, such as that forged by the Committee of Ministers, “it is now rather an electoral disadvantage not to be able to bring forward a gender balanced list” and “the nomination process has become self-correcting.”

Confirming Europeans’ commitment to such change, this spring an Albanian women’s coalition hosted the Open Forum: ”Local Elections 2007 and Participation of Women and Young Girls in the Political Processes in Albania.”

The forum addressed topics such as the call for a female presidential candidate and women’s involvement and representation in the latest local elections.

The meeting was characterized by lively and interesting debate but several leaders “expressed their concerns that although many initiatives have taken place during the election period, still the number of women candidates was very low.”

The participants generally endorsed the call for a woman president but concluded that a joint effort by Albanian civil society and the political sphere would be necessary to achieve deep-seated change.

Similarly, South Asian activists are exceptionally concerned that women are not adequately represented in the region’s political realm. As such, the South Asia Partnership International (SAPI) is organizing a regional conference on ”Women in Politics: Breaking the Silence”, to be held next month in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Rights advocates identify the macho political culture and violence targeting female politicians as major impediments to women wishing to rise within South Asian political ranks.

Organizers hope the South Asia Regional Conference will allow participants to consolidate their voices as they “share knowledge and resources,” enhance regional understanding, and raise awareness among South Asian authorities, as well as regional and international bodies.

Article first published at

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Affirmative Action Bill 2007: Kenya’s GNU in Yet Another Cock-up

Posted on 16 August 2007. Filed under: Affirmative Action |

With less than four months to the elections, women of Kenya are today waking up to the sad fact that the proposed creation of 50 special seats for women in Kenya’s parliament was just but a dream.

This disappointing news comes after the women had launched a strong petition to collect one million signatures to support their desire to see parliament pass what is called the Affirmative Action Bill of 2007. Indeed, the women had organised public rallies, road shows and many other initiatives to support their cause including a public demonstration outside parliament yesterday.

The problem stem from the fact that not enough consultations were done by the Government of National Unity (GNU), especially with members of opposition, prior to introducing the bill in the national assembly. The GNU further complicated matters by attempting to sugar coat the creation of 40 new additional constituencies by merging it with the bill for creating 50 special feminine special seats in parliament. The sad thing here is that creation of 50 special feminine seats does not need two thirds majority to be passed in parliament, yet the GNU insiders saw it fit to merge it with another bill that requires two thirds majority (because it is a constitutional amendment). This seems to have failed miserably and consequently is turning out to be one of the biggest blunder and a blow to wooing much needed women’s votes to President Kibaki’s re-election strategy. Any Bill requiring a two-thirds majority to pass through Parliament cannot be re-introduced in the House until six months have elapsed and the country will have a new government by then, and therefore it is not a guarantee that women will get their 50 special seats in parliament soon.

Women make up to 52 per cent of the population but are underrepresented in parliament. Of the 222 MPs in Parliament, only 18 are women – 10 were elected and eight nominated. The story in local authorities is the same. Women hold an insignificant 377 out of 2,837 civic seats. In Kenya, more often than not, affirmative action with regard to gender has been mostly centered on the promotion of education and representation in public life for women. There is also the realization that women should be evaluated on the basis that they did not get similar opportunities in comparison to their male counterparts earlier in life.

The latest developments in Kenya’s parliament means that women will now have to first square off with men in the forthcoming general elections and after that wait for the next government to re-introduce the bill to the national assembly for debate. That is not to say that the next government will act speedily and favourably in ensuring this bill is re-introduced and enacted, but it is certainly severe setback to Kenya’s progress towards Millennium Development Goal No. 3 that aims to Promote gender equality and empower women by the year 2015.

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals


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