Empowering Women Through Agriculture

Posted Thursday, December 22nd 2011 at 1:11am

As part of my trip to Kenya, I was able to visit some ONE Campaign partner sites to see some of the programs I advocate for in action, particularly those dealing with women in agriculture. The day before my visit, I had been sitting in the village talking to some of the male teachers and had to grit my teeth as they told me women were best kept at home and their duty was solely to their husband.
Well, that’s a lie. I did not grit my teeth. I told the women in the circle they had just as much right to an education as the men did. While I believe in being respectful, if Susan B. Anthony had sat around biting her tongue where would we be today?
Then I met Susan B. Anthony! Well, I met Amina Bakari Hamini, who was just as good and my host for the partner site day. She is an amazing empowered African woman and she has made it her mission to empower every other woman in Kenya as well. She runs an organization called Coast Women’s Rights and, among other things, she was a key activist in getting women landownership in Kenya. This is important because right now in Kenya women do 80% of the farming, but only own 1% of the land – which means all their hard work is going straight into another man’s wallet.
Amina was quick to point out as we drove out to Kwale that the women were the ones walking down the roads carrying everything from water to firewood on their heads.
“Men say they are busy, but look who are the ones doing all the work!” Amina kept smirking.
When we arrived at the farms we got a tour then sat down with the women to hear about their struggles and their successes. Though Kenya has not been as directly affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa as some countries (due largely in part to preemptive planning from NGO and relief organizations), it has still had its toll on the farming community. The rain cycles have changed so farmers do not know when to plant and the types of crops best suited for the environment are changing too. This particular farm was also still struggling with landownership and looking for a way to own their own farm.
The good news though was that the 23 person farm (21 of which are women) is able to produce enough food to feed all of the farmers and their families. They are also harvesting enough to sell some items at a local market, though they hope the amount will increase soon.
Agriculture is twice as effective at fighting poverty than any other method. It is two-fold because it both feeds farmers and earns them an income. This was evident in the full bellies of the children who played around us. More and more women are learning the business side of farming and Amina is sure this will lead to self-sustaining empowered women. “For the first time in our history, a deliberate effort has been made to ensure that women will have a critical role in our country[through the new Kenyan constitution]," said Amina. “We must do whatever we can to lead them so that one day their daughters will not know what it is like to be oppressed.”
Approximately 1.2 billion people in the world are hungry. Together with smart effective programs in agriculture though, we can change that. As Hilary Clinton says, “Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. Well, if you teach a woman to fish, she'll feed the whole village."

 Abby Sasser


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