By Doris Moseti, Mukuru
The Muungano’s Womancode is a movement of women drawn from different informal settlements mostly in major cities such as; Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa and Kisumu. The Womancode is primarily keen in advocacy, empowering and enlightening women living in informal settlements on social and capital development through partnerships. This movement collaborates with women living in informal settlements to create a vibrant and self-driven women community.
Given their silence, but strong presence in informal settlements, the level of optimism is rife and steadfast, taking each day at a time to change their settlements their spirits never dampened by the harsh realities of informality that the they are forced by circumstances to be resilient to.
The women, organized in community based savings groups often come together to empower one another to win against their daily life struggles. Their biggest struggle is the fight to survive, raise, fend and educate their children in a poorly underserviced environment (often in 10 by 10 square meters shack). These children remain a mirror of hope that in the future, they will pull out their families out of abject poverty.
Womancode aims to improve and put into perspective the serious topic of gender equality in urban development, an area that has been completely ignored in the male dominated realms of politics, social development, and entrepreneurship. It is obvious, that there is the need for an inclusive society that adores and respects the views of the her’s-she. This can only be achieved if there is a balanced approach on achieving gender equality and women empowerment.
The movement supports women groups and organisations in informal settlements to come up with strategies for community based social development in low income communities within Kenya. It does so through developing partnerships and networking to harness the potential of diverse ideas.
In an ordinary slum setting, women are considered to be the backbone of low income communities. Women are at their kiosks and stalls selling their wares trying to earn an honest living, while young women pull carts to dispose of the waste and garbage collected overnight from the numerous households in the informal settlements. The informal market places, which are considered to food sources for the densified populations in the slums, offering a sense of food, secured informal settlements.
At the break of dawn, you would find out that women are already returning to their small grocery stores from “Marikiti” the retail markets where they buy vegetables.
During lunchtime, especially around the industrial zones of Mukuru, women are busy cooking at the roadside, preparing food for those who cannot cook at home as well as the factory workers who have a one hour lunch break before getting back into the factory steel gates to complete their afternoon shift. Being a food vendor is a pretty good guaranteed source of income.
As poverty continues to bite and life in informal settlements continues to be uncertain, women continue to be relegated to the periphery of frontline development. Talking to Pauline, a middle aged woman living in Kibra’s Gatwekera village selling groceries by the roadside leaves me wondering how she can support a family of eight with this kind of business. But she’s been doing it for over 6 years. She knows pretty well that she has to keep her expenses to a bare minimum if she’s to cater for the family. Besides which her business partner also have to pay for the small trader’s scheme they have set up.
Challenges facing organizations like Muungano wa Wanavijiji must always be seen as opportunities we can learn from. Working as a grass roots movement brings us into contact with all sorts of people with varied interests and approaches to address urban poverty. This has therefore empowered us as women on how best handle different challenges. Youths on the other hand are grappling with challenges of poverty and would prefer projects with quick financial gains. Young girls resort to prostitution as a means of day to day survival which makes it difficult for them to get out of. Abortion is on the rise, since unprotected sex is a tool of the trade.
Community driven development is an approach that the Kenya Federation of the urban poor-Muungano wa Wanavijiji advocates to encourage people to participate in social projects and fight for the installation of basic services, such as sanitation in informal settlements. With many still living on less than one dollar a day, challenges must become opportunities and avenues for empowerment that tap the potentials of the highly pragmatic women and youth populations.
We must curve new dimensions and our diversity must be fed into our community programs by our young and ambitious, open minded and charismatic reformers. We are changing perceptions of how communities view themselves in order to take part in development.
Women-led initiatives can transform and impact local communities. Young people, including women are proponents of peace and development which triggers prosperity. WOMANCODE wants to see them as leaders in sustainable development, not as risks to society. Women are no longer ignorant and unaware of what goes on around them.
Our approach is more and more to support community programs and initiatives that fuels innovation tailored by local solutions.