I am pleased to join Kenyans in celebrating this year’s International Women’s Day. This is an important occasion in which we reflect on the need to empower women and celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women in our country and the world over.
I am encouraged to note that the United Nations overall theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”. This is an important theme as it underlines the key challenge facing women in many countries of the developing world.
As we reflect on this theme and the necessary steps that need to be taken to empower rural women, I am happy to note that we have made commendable progress in empowering women in our country.
In particular, it is encouraging to note that the Women Enterprise Fund is improving the economic and social situation of women in the country by fostering income generating activities. As Kenyans will recall, the Women Enterprise Fund was conceived in 2006 and officially launched in 2007 with a seed capital of Sh1 billion.
The aim of the Fund is to provide accessible and affordable credit to women to enable them start and/or expand business for wealth and employment creation. The Fund also provides business support services such as capacity building and facilitates women to access markets for their products. Moreover, the Fund helps women enterprises to develop linkages with big enterprises and develops requisite infrastructure to support women entrepreneurs.
I am glad to note that since its establishment, the Fund has benefited thousands of women throughout the country. Since inception, the Fund has received Sh2.3 billion from the Government. Of this amount,
Sh2.1 billion has so far been disbursed as credit benefiting 439,000 women from all the 210 constituencies. In addition to offering loans, the Fund has trained over 34,000 women in entrepreneurship and record keeping.
Through these loans, women have ventured into productive income generating activities such as dairy farming, goat rearing, trading in cereals, posho mills, day-care centres and retail trade, among others. Through these activities, women have created jobs for themselves and for many other Kenyans. I congratulate all those brave women who are changing not only their lives but the lives of other Kenyans. I am confident that this economic empowerment of women will in due time strengthen women’s voices within the home, the community and the nation at large.
I urge all women beneficiaries to repay their loans on schedule so as to enable other women to benefit as well. I also appeal to leaders in Constituencies ranking poorly in loan repayment to sensitize women on the need to repay loans so that the Fund can be sustainable. I also urge big businesses, parastatals and learning institutions to support women entrepreneurs by providing them with opportunities to supply goods and services.
More importantly, I call upon more women to take advantage of the Fund.
Women must overcome the fear of loans and other cultural barriers and partake of the cheap loans available. Indeed, women need to know that loans to Self Help Groups are at zero per cent interest rate while those to individuals attract a low interest rate of 8 per cent per annum.
As we seek gender equality, I remind women in the country that a critical measure of their success is how well they bring up their children. In this regard, I urge women to be extra vigilant in the upbringing of children in order to ensure children are disciplined and protected from drug and substance abuse, including alcohol as well as promiscuity and negative peer influences.
Teachers, parents and indeed all adult Kenyans also have a duty in ensuring that we nurture a responsible generation of young people who can be relied upon to carry forward the work of nation building. As women and adult Kenyans we must serve as role models not only in our private lives but also as corporate entities.
In this regard, I wish to call upon unionized workers across the country to give negotiations and dialogue a chance rather than having recourse to industrial action or strikes as this is setting an undesirable example to our youth. Let us teach our children to appreciate the value of reasoning together and reaching negotiated settlement to any disputes or grievances.
Lucy Kibaki is Kenya’s First Lady