Ask an activist: Why is economic independence important for indigenous women in Kenya?

Date: Tuesday, April 23, 2019

About the author

Agnes Leina, Founder and Executive Director of Il’laramatak Community Concerns
Agnes Leina. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Agnes Leina is an Indigenous woman from northern Kenya. She is the founder and Executive Director of the I’llaramatak Community Concerns (ICC), a resource centre offering livelihood options for women and working with pastoralist communities to recognize the equal value and potential of women and girls to contribute towards their families and communities. Ms. Leina was one of the participants of the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the UN’s largest annual gathering on women’s rights issues.

When you own things, you have power; and when you don't, you have no voice. Economic bondage is demeaning, and by enabling women to make their own money, you give them back their dignity.

Financial dependence is a big barrier for [indigenous/pastoralist] women in Kenya. Usually, the only economic activity they have is milking cattle and selling the milk. Women do not own land; almost 70 per cent of them are illiterate, and don’t see education as an important issue [for their daughters]. Most of them decide to marry off their girls to get cows in exchange.

That is why we have the I’llaramatak Community Concerns (ICC) resource centre, where women and girls learn to be empowered, self-reliant and independent.

The resource centre also offers a programme for women who used to earn their income by practising female genital mutilation on girls. The project, “Cut the garment, not the girl,” give former circumcisers an alternative option to earn an income. These women now make and sell mats, uniforms, beads and milk products. They are excited to be working, they are happy, and it keeps them busy.

We also work with girls as we want to bring about a young generation of pastoralist women. For them, we have what we call "goal setting" and transformative leadership trainings. We make education a priority and tell the girls [and their parents] to set a goal. When you have a goal, you have a road map. We are bringing up these girls to become professionals.