By: Rael Adhiambo
A Success story on what really happens when women are in the forefront of environmental conservation especially in rural African communities.
Natural resources such as water, air, land, forests are crucial in sustaining rural communities. This means that these resources must be utilized sustainably in order to maintain the services they produce for future generations. In sub-Saharan Africa and Kenya in particularly, women remain to be the custodians of natural resources1. They are tasked with feeding their families through farming (usually subsistence), collection of firewood for cooking and water for use2. Ironically, these women are never consulted on water and natural resources management and conservation. Moreover, women in majority of these countries cannot own land and hence are left out of decision making regarding land issues3.
One organization in western Kenya, called WWANC 4 is helping to achieve at least 14 of the 17 sustainable development goals i.e. poverty reductions, gender equality and clean water and sanitation. This is done by acknowledging the unique role that women play in rural communities and their potential to be advocates and managers of natural resources. WWANC aims to identify, improve and integrate women through health education and entrepreneurship for sustainable development. It is a local independent woman led organization that invests in the potential of women as conservators of the environment. The organization is guided by the sustainable development goals through four broad areas of expertise.
The organization identifies the unique role that education for sustainable development has on women empowerment and environmental conservation as a whole. The organization has come up with four strong pillars to help them fulfill their mandate. The first one consists of women peer to peer mentorship. Through this programme, relevant knowledge and skills are able to be transferred to women in communities thus strengthening their capacities in a number of areas such as entrepreneurship and banking. In addition, women educators are also able to link women in communities with local service providers, governments, business communities and the civil society groups. The second pillar focuses on policy and practice. Through this pillar the organization is able to use its position by working with the national and county governments by influencing the policies and debates shaping women’s lives. The organizations main focus on this pillar includes increased resource allocation to women groups. They also provide a critical platform whereby policy makers and women groups can have dialogue and joint decision making. This has substantially increased gender equality in sensitive issues such as allocation of land to women which was initially never discussed.
The third pillar encompasses women in research. WWANC aims to bringing up strong experienced women researchers. Through this pillar, the organization has partnered with the Global Women Water Initiative (GWWI) to train women researchers in investigating livelihood issues in their communities. Finally, the fourth and last pillar is all about women mobilization. The organization aims at understanding the unique challenges facing women in respect to environmental resources such as; clean water , agro- resources and fossil fuel, and how best to mobilize , engage and motivate them to lead change in their communities. This is achieved through a women educator model that can be used to engage and inform women from a range of backgrounds and has proven particularly useful in linking women in rural context to services.
So what’s our success story?
Through the organization we have seen a substantial reduction in poverty level among women in rural western Kenya. The organization has been actively involved in elevating the status of women through entrepreneurship by provision of starting capital and loans to various projects led by women groups. Water has been documented as being an important resource that inhibits women progress in rural areas. The organization through various donor funding has been able to construct water tanks for more than 10 women’s organization groups. This reduces the time used to spend looking for water and reduces pressure on water resources through rainfall harvesting. Education among women and young girls has also improved in the areas that WWANC operates. The organization has conducted numerous girl peer to peer talks which bring primary and high school students to various women mentors to share their stories and experiences. This has resulted in a significant reduction of girl child drop outs in schools the programme has been operational. In addition, these girls are brought up equipped with life skills that will enable them to not only reach their full potential, but also achieve their dreams.
Women to women Mentorship is at the core of this organization and as there has been intensified through capacity building and training aimed at equipping women in rural areas with the relevant skills such as banking and saving as well as entrepreneurship in order to make them self reliant and economically stable. Lastly, environmental and natural resource protection and management has been enhanced through on farm tree planting campaigns. Borrowing a leaf from the green belt movement, founded by the late Nobel peace laureate Wangari Maathai, the organization believes that strengthening tree planting initiatives will create lasting effects on the lives of women in rural areas. This will be achieved through providing them with a cheap and available fuel for cooking and also reducing the time, energy and finances used up in collection and purchase of firewood. Furthermore, this reduces pressure from surrounding natural areas to provide fuel for the ever growing populations.
The hope for this year is to do much more and bring women and their issues to the forefront of environmental management and decision making with the hopes of achieving sustainable development. I chose to share the amazing story of this wonderful group to the Western Community and African partners because it highlights the ambition of Africans to solve our own problems. Furthermore, it really shows us just how much gender issues have transformed from the age of our grandparents and the change that comes through a community whenwomen are put in the centre stage of environmental and development issues.
*All photos were posted with the permission of women in water and natural resources management.
Rael Adhiambo is currently an MSc. in Environmental Science Student at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya and is passionate about Sustainable Development. She was a visiting graduate student at Western University for five months at the Department of Biology.