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Women in arid areas miss out on gains of empowerment fund

Public Service and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia
Public Service and Gender Affairs Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Women in arid and semi-arid parts of the country are not benefiting from the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) as much as their counterparts in other regions, a new report shows, highlighting the need to drastically change strategy.

The funds are a flagship programme of Kenya's Vision 2030 blueprint, which includes initiatives to enable women, youth and the disabled access funds to promote businesses and enterprise at the constituency level, thereby enhancing economic growth.

The report on the status of the WEF shows that female entrepreneurs in eight ASAL counties have only taken Sh600.4 million or slightly above three percent of the total Sh18.32 billion disbursed under the fund since 2007.

The report tabled before Parliament shows that women in West Pokot County have so far taken Sh39.8 million— the lowest of all counties followed by their counterparts in Mandera County at Sh52.3 million.

Those in Marsabit are third lowest at Sh59.6 million followed by women in neighbouring Samburu at Sh86.1 million. Isiolo closes the list of the five-lowest beneficiaries having only taken Sh88.8 million.

Cabinet Secretary for Public Service Margaret Kobia, in the report, painted a grim picture of growing gap in the economic empowerment of women.

WEF was started in 2007 to provide cheap credit to women entrepreneurs, increase their capacity and provide market linkages for women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises as part of economic empowerment by the Jubilee administration.

Prof Kobia told Parliament that more needs to be done to ensure that the fund serves its intention uniformly across the country effectively bringing women entrepreneurs in the ASAL into sharp focus.

The low uptake of the women loans contradicts the ministry’s stand that sensitisation programmes in the far-flung regions have seen more women apply for the cheap credit.

Dismal uptake

“A joint grassroots approach dabbed Huduma Mashinani has enabled more rural communities to engage with economic empowerment programmes hence increasing uptake,” Prof Kobia told Parliament.

The dismal uptake of loans in the ASAL counties brings to fore perennial hurdles where women bear the brunt of economic marginalisation and pervasive traditions that continue to relegate them behind men in regions where pastoral livestock keeping is key.

Women in Garissa County service their loans the least with a repayment rate of 0.73 percent followed by their counterparts in Mandera and Nyamira at 0.79 percent. Those in Narok and Wajir close the list of the worst performers at a rate of 0.82 percent.

On the other hand, women in Nyeri top the list in loan repayment with a rate of 1.04 percent while those in Kirinyaga and Murang’a tie in second spot at 1.03 percent. Women traders in Nyandarua are third at a rate of 1.02 percent while those in Laikipia and Embu counties close the best five at 1.01 percent.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) last month said that despite their unlimited potential, women across the country face multifaceted barriers including gender-based violence and traditions that continue to keep economic opportunities out of their reach.

“Household chores limit school attendance and work options. They have less access to and control over the benefits from land tenure, education, and employment opportunities,” USAID said.

Socioeconomic disadvantages

In total, 1.75 million women spread across 108,728 self-help groups have benefitted from the WEF loans since the fund’s inception more than a decade ago, a paltry number for a group United Nations says is key in the achieving meaningful economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“According to recent data from some 90 countries, women devote on average roughly three times more hours a day to unpaid care and domestic work than men, limiting the time available for paid work, education and leisure and further reinforcing gender-based socioeconomic disadvantages,” UN said on the status report of the Social Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030.

In total, 1.353 million women have been trained on entrepreneurship across the country with last year’s numbers standing at 178,845.

The private sector has responded to calls by the State to boost financial inclusion of female entrepreneurs through women-only loans in a bid to bridge the economic gap.

Banks including Stanbic and StanChart have also rolled out women-only loans meant to provide cheap credit to female-owned businesses and help them achieve their potential.

Stanbic Bank last year launched a Sh20 billion fund while Absa in February rolled out a Sh10 billion kitty that targets female-owned Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and attract low interest rates.