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PAPER FOR THE JOURNAL OF CONSTRACTIVE THEOLOGY (JCT)
TITLE: “WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS’
DEVELOPMENT AS A STRATEGY FOR POVERTY ERADICATION IN KENYA”.
By The Rev. Zablon Bundi Mutongu
Abstract
The aim of this paper is to examine women’s participation in Community-Based Organizations’
(CBO’s) led development activities as a strategy for poverty eradication in Kenya. I seek to
establish that this should go together with looking at the limiting as well as enabling factors for
women’s authentic participation in CBOs’ development activities.

The first part of the paper outlines and discusses the background of the problem, the meaning of CBOs,
participation and the factors affecting women’s participation in CBO’s development activities. The
hindering factors outlined include women’s educational level, Internal and External politics, Experience
of leadership, Socio-cultural influences, Reproductive roles and Lack of Exposure and Religious beliefs.
This reveals that, if the above factors are addressed and women are enhanced to participate in CBOs
development, then this would be a big boost to the economic growth in our area and the country as well.
The result would be better distribution of resources and equal participation in decision-making in
community’s development and societal welfare at large.
The second part focuses on a discussion of the importance of women’s participation in CBOs, showing
that participation in itself is a form of women’s empowerment that strengthens women’s abilities to take
decisions and act for themselves thereby maximizing the outcomes in the production process. The
enabling factors discussed here include; empowering women politically, educating women for social
change, breaking socio-cultural and religious barriers, gender mainstreaming and women’s
empowerment, issues of organizational change, and leadership training and motivation. Cutting across
all these factors is the affirmation that women’s authentic participation in CBOs’ led development
activities will result to gender balance in development.
These gender complementarities in turn results in strengthening women’s self-esteem and power in
decision-making, leading to more efficiency and effectiveness in CBOs’ development activities. The
overall point in this part is that, enabling factors such as training and women empowerment results in
enhanced women’s participation in CBOs in community development. This leads to better performance of
CBOs, resulting to economic growth and more incomes for the individuals and the community. The effect
of this equal distribution of benefits is leading to improved conditions of living and hence poverty
eradication in the society as a whole.

Introduction
Development begins with the release of the God-given potential, which is only possible when people are
free to be themselves. As we increase in positive attitudes about our potential to grow and ability to be
better actors, this results to transformed persons and structures.
People are said to be describing their ideals of development when they rise in protest against attacks of
their own values. Development is liberation. It aims at strengthening the abilities of people and
institutions to solve their own problems in harmony with the natural environment. We need to
acknowledge that issues of human rights and development come together. This means that civil rights and
political have a development dimension, and that without fulfilling the development needs of the human
person, you can’t have human rights either. We have to think about integral development of the person
and the community where we live and the nation.
Our collective future depends upon achieving a transformation of our institutions, our technology, our
values, and our behaviour consistent with our ecological and social realities. This transformation must
address three basic needs of our global society: justice, sustainability, and inclusiveness. Transformation
is not grasping an eternal set of information, knowledge, or skills, but changing into one’s self, informed
by the new knowledge and skills. Knowing something is an opportunity for metanoia, which is a deeper
realization of one’s meaning and purpose. The true meaning of development is to enable all human beings
to reach their fullest potential individually, and to have their communities have the resources they need.

Development should be understood as a liberating process aimed at justice, self-reliance and economic
growth. It is essentially a people’s participation, in which the poor and the oppressed are and should be
the active agents and the immediate beneficiaries. This means that we are called to find ways of
empowering the marginalised, so that they can best utilize the opportunities at their disposal. We need
also to unwrap the problem created by ideological fetters to domesticate women and frustrate their free
participation in community activities as well as the larger society.

(i) Background to the Problem
The concept of CBOs is not new in Kenya and in Africa in general. In 1963 when Kenya became
independent, the founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta called on people to join together and go back to the
farms. The purpose was working together to increase agricultural productivity and boost the Gross
National Product (GNP). In African traditional societies, it was not unusual for one to “call for help from
his clan members and other relatives in paying for fines; in finding goods to exchange for a wife” (Mbiti
1976:106). For an African, getting together was seen as making work easier and more achievable. This
implies that, the success of an individual was seen as the success of the community. This interdependent
spirit is summarized by John S Mbiti (1976:113), when he says; “I am because we are, and since we are
therefore I am”.
The need to get together stems from the fact that human beings by their very nature are social beings. But
why would people want to come together in such a busy world today? According to Mulwa and Mala
(2000:9-11), there are four reasons why people come together. Firstly, because of proximity, people from
the same locality will tend to be in groups. Secondly, people come to groups because of what they gain
from it. Thirdly, people come to groups because of sharing the same profession. And lastly, people come
to group because they share the same ideals. To these I would add my own conviction that, achievement
is always the driving force for joining CBOs.
So, having come from a background where working together was cherished, I now feel that CBOs is a
conscious modern concept of African togetherness. A CBO is an “organizational entity made up of people
whose membership is defined by a specific common bond and who voluntarily come together to work for
a common goal” (Mulwa and Mala, 2000:4). Ideally, a CBO is initiated, managed and owned by the
members themselves in a defined community. It is hoped that those who come together to form the CBO
will be able to enjoy the benefits of pulling their resources together and maximize their outcomes for the
betterment of the individuals and the whole community.
CBOs as vehicles for community development took root in Kenya in the 1960s. For example, in Kiambu
District, people mobilized themselves in groups and formed CBOs (then known as coffee cooperatives) to
increase their purchasing power for inputs and to market their produce more profitably. As a result of
these CBOs many small scale projects were completed and since then, CBOs have a place in community
development in this area. The use of CBOs in community development is very important as it reduces the
biases in rural development. These are: spatial bias where development is concentrated in places that are
reachable; project bias where projects are started for prestige purposes; person bias where prominent
people dominate and have their ideas imposed on the rest; dry season bias where rural community are
only visited only during the dry seasons because the vehicles can reach there; diplomatic bias where
development workers are ashamed to expose poverty that face the people; professional bias where
development workers only want to discuss issues that are in their line – as outlined by Robert Chambers
(1983:13-23). CBOs in my opinion will be able to address these biases because they will operate within
the context of the community, and at the same time they “are people’s organizations and will attempt to
articulate the members’ needs” (Mulwa and Mala, 2000:6).
To be able to address the above biases members of CBOs need to be able to understand the biases’ effects
on development. I feel that this understanding is something lacking due to women’s low literacy levels in
our Country. In an UNESCO survey in 1982, it was found out that 64% of Kenya’s non-literate
population are women (Chitere and Mutiso, 1991:91). According to the Kenya Human Rights
Commission (KHRC), female literacy was 65% versus 84% among men in 1998 (Moraa, 1999). This
calls us to explore further the relationship between women’s participation in CBO’s development
activities and their educational attainment. As well as making CBOs more effective in development,
bringing women to participate in CBOs is very important as it will make CBOs attractive to Aid agencies,
who now as part of their conditionality ‘require participation by the people at appropriate levels so that
benefits can reach maximum number of persons’ (Welsh and Butorin, 1990).
According to United Nations reports “women are half the world’s population, yet they do two thirds of
the world’s work, earn one-tenth of the world’s income, and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s
property” (UN 1985). In Kenya and especially Kiambu District, women’s position does not differ from
the above situation. It is not uncommon to find women supporting very large families although the
majority of them are still very poor. Therefore CBOs which are usually formed with the aim of improving
the living conditions of the poor cannot be effective unless women participate in their projects’
formulation and implementation, as contributors as well as beneficiaries. In this area women are the main
providers of basic services such as housing, education for their children, clothing and food. This is mostly
clearly seen because most of the homes are headed by single mothers and widows.
Although women do all these, their role remains largely unrecognized. Together with this they are faced
with many constraints in trying to participate in development activities such as CBOs’ initiated
development projects which are largely dominated by their male counterparts. But if there is going to be
equitable distribution of CBOs’ development benefits, there is need to remove these constraints. Here I
am thinking of socio-cultural barriers, religious beliefs, leadership, education level, as well as
reproductive roles in their families. Being the principle laborers in many societies, women should also
have a share in decision-making, implementing, sharing benefits and in evaluation. This is what Bergdall
(1993:2) calls, “active participation”. This is because women’s participation would help bring about
equity in resource distribution.
Although the term participation has different meanings to different people, in this paper, I will use the
term authentic participation to mean people becoming highly motivated to take part in the life of their
organization. This would mean that they actively take part in decision making and take responsibility for
those decisions. They have a high sense of self-esteem and regard themselves as the best resource. If
women in this case can be enabled to acquire authentic participation, then I would say that, they could be
able to become masters of their own destiny.
(ii) Outline of Factors Hindering Women Participation in CBOs
(a) Educational Level
While I understand that the major role of institutions in a society is to reduce uncertainty by
establishing a stable structure to human interaction, the education system in Kenya has not
favoured women. The way it was established has a lot to say about the current discriminative
practices in the system. At first women or girls were educated on how to take care of their
families, as for example in home science courses and they were always socialized to be of
secondary importance to men. Men were educated for jobs away from home and were mainly
seen as the breadwinners of the family.
This kind of system then played a key role in eliminating women from the economic activities of
the society (even though they played a dominant role in subsistence economies) and created a
structure where women were made to be solely responsible for reproductive roles. In most
cases institutions, with their rules for achieving social or economic ends, specify how resources
are allocated. Tasks, responsibilities and value are assigned as well as determining who gets
what, who does what, and who decides. Therefore men having a better hand in education
dominate most of the social institutions and women in most cases become passive recipients of
male chauvinism.
In Kenya, although women form more than half the population, the majority of women are still
illiterate. I witnessed this in December 2002, when I moved around the whole of Kiambu District
supervising election monitors. All the reports I got on the monitoring process had 30% of women
being assisted to vote as they could not read or write. This was a shocking revelation to me as
Kiambu is one of the most developed Districts in Kenya.
Education and training should equip learners with skills that enable them to live and positively
contribute towards the development of their society and environment. It is therefore expected
that members of the CBOs will have the necessary educational standard and skills to be able to
contribute meaningfully to the life of the CBO. However CBOs’ women members are
disadvantaged in that the environment is not conducive to women’s education.
I have also observed that with the current economic constraints in many families, girls’
education is usually sacrificed to that of their brothers. Recently I have come across cases
where girls drop out of school and get household jobs to support their brothers to complete
studies. To me, this creates an imbalance in society, as the educated people tend to dominate
decision-making processes in the society. The imbalance also tends to confine women to
reproductive roles, which are normally not valued in quantifiable terms as contributing to the
economy, as many of the women end up becoming housewives.
(b) Internal and External Politics
Internal and External politics is another factor affecting women’s participation in CBOs. In most Church-
based CBOs women are always shy to come out and be fully involved. Internal and External politics in
CBOs can result in distortion of priorities. It is very common to see external influences expressed in
CBOs especially if community leaders such as Chiefs, Assistant Chiefs or even sometimes, Church
leaders have special interests. When something like a power struggle crops up, most women tend to
withdraw and hence this weakens their power to influence decision making. In this case unpopular leaders
find their way to become the decision-makers in CBOs.
In some cases external politics comes in the form of nominated leaders by people who are in government.
I have witnessed a case where a District Commissioner appoints a person who he/she knows is in favour
with his/her interests, and especially so if the CBO is donor funded. The godfather therefore dictates the
participation that results and the outcome of such participation is that the godfather controls the benefits.
In such circumstances, women have very little chance of participating in CBO development.
(c) Experience of Leadership
The problem of leadership in Africa in general is that it does not put people first. Most leaders are
concerned more with their own personal gains rather than how they can help the group to attain its goals
and objectives. Leadership can inhibit a free flow of ideas and restrict the number of options that might be
available. The kind of leadership I see in our CBOs is that which is limiting, as it does not give women a
chance to participate in CBO development. Sometimes there is deliberate effort to frustrate women’s
participation by setting the meeting times to be at night while the leaders know very well that in our area,
not many women would want to attend night meetings due to insecurity in the area.
The question of leadership and the intensity of the problem also lie in the women themselves shying away
from taking up leadership challenges. This reminds me of my idea, experience and inspiration that
motivated me to think about women participation in CBOs. The idea dates back to 1999 when I appointed
a woman to be the chairperson in one of the churches I was serving. She declined to take up the offer
citing the fear that, it had never happened in their culture and area for a woman to be the leader with so
many men available for leadership. I tried to explain to her that I was not looking for a man but a leader,
but she refused. This tells me that there is a great need for women to be empowered in our society.
(d) Socio-Cultural Influences
Socio-cultural influences are very strong tools of group control. All people in a place because the cultural
aspect comprises of norms and values, relationship networks and interactions share this. These norms and
values although humanly designed capture the mindsets of people and become the determining factor in
the behaviour of the society. To transcend our limitations, we must acknowledge that our perceptions are
related to our location and interests.
Culture mostly influences the frame in which we operate in, but for development to take place, we need to
transcend the cultural barriers and limitations. In most African societies, women are not expected to speak
before men, a thing that has kept many women’s potential untapped or even unrealized at all. Women are
also not expected to own property or even share in the inheritance of their parents. This therefore limits
them from contributing to socio-economic activities that are meant to bring about development of the
whole society. So if women are to participate in CBOs, there is a need to alter mindsets fundamentally in
order to change practices in ways that result in greater equity between men and women, as well as the
integration of work and personal life. Here I agree with Rao, Stuart and Kelleher, when they say that,
“given the stereotypic gender roles, the heroes tend to be men, as the organizational culture they have
created has been unfriendly and uninviting to women. As such, women’s interests are underrepresented;
and therefore, there is no pressure or constituency for challenging existing gender-biased relations and
ideologies” (1999:11). This shows that the cultural influences are a force to be reckoned with if there is to
be a breakthrough in gender balance.
(e) Reproductive roles and Lack of Exposure
This is another factor that hinders women participation in CBOs. As a result of cultural dictates, women
are allocated different roles from those of men in many African societies. The work family-split element
of deep structure also devalues women’s interests within organizations and women’s work outside them.
As women are still largely responsible for care of the family, this deeply held value largely limits women
participation in public organizations and does not support re-organizing responsibilities with families
(Rao, Stuart and Kelleher, 1999:12).
As a result of these reproductive roles, many women are not exposed socially, intellectually and
even politically. This leads to low confidence levels and lack of self-esteem. This situation
denies women the experience they need to be able to authentically participate in CBO
development.

(e) Religious Beliefs
Religion as an integral part of society refers to the shared beliefs and practices of a society.
Although religion legitimizes those norms and values that are consistent with the beliefs of a
society, it also condemns those norms and values that are not. Due to its power and influence in
society, religion has often been used as a tool for social control. The aspect of using religion for
social control and societal manipulation is seen even in the political arena when some politicians use religion to assert themselves and their ideas to the masses. In the Jewish culture as exhibited in the Bible, women were usually excluded from social activities for almost three weeks every month in the name of ritual impurity rites. This is because women were expected to remain indoors during one week’s menstrual period, followed by two weeks of ritual cleansing. To me this was a way of controlling women economically so as to make them dependants of men, rather than a purity issue. Together with this there is also the question of submissiveness propagated by many religions. These aspects of religious beliefs have in one way or another acted as barriers to women’s participation in development activities. For women to be able to participate fully in CBOs, these barriers must be broken especially in our rural areas where illiterate women are easily manipulated through these beliefs. Importance of women’s participation in CBOs
For sustainable development to be attained, women who are the majority of the Kenyan population and the ones who mainly support the rural population need to be empowered for active participation in CBOs’ development. My working definition of sustainable development is that given by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) that is “development that meets the needs of present generations without compromising the possibilities of future generations to meet their needs” (WCED 1987). The concept of sustainable development for me can not be complete without the involvement of women. My view here is in agreement with CAPEL, that “women at all levels of responsibility have always been involved in activities for the improvement of the quality of life of their families and communities” (1982:3). But why involve women? According to Nyerere, “development is for people, by people and of people” (1988:30). Most often communities involve themselves in various developmental programs without involving the women, and most often such programs do not succeed. In agreement with this statement CEPAL wrote, Development strategies, which attempt to improve the economic conditions of the whole community and to restructure the socio-economic relations between classes, have had very little effect on changing women’s status. If they do succeed in integrating them into communities, they are locked into stereotypical and limited household roles. Project development by and for women is one of the ways of building self-confidence, improving skills, and fulfilling needs through collective action (1982:7). There is also need to empower women for leadership as this would give them the courage needed for participating in CBOs. The picture of a leader I am having here is not only of a manager of human and financial resources of an organization but also one who is an organizer, a mobilizer, a motivator, a producer, a communicator and a planner. Good planning for me means that everyone has to participate. I also feel that to get tasks done effectively, responsibilities have to be shared, and that for an organization to function effectively, you have to use effective channels and tools. This means that to effect a change in any community, the beneficiary’s interests must be taken into account and this will be achieved through a bottom up process and not a top down approach. Therefore involvement of women in CBOs’ development activities is one way of achieving this task. It is also necessary that women participate in CBOs’ development activities because as Saxena says, “the essence of participation is exercising voice and choice and developing the human, organizational and management capacity to solve problems as they arise in order to sustain the improvements” (Saxena 1998, p.111, quoted in Cornwall 2002, p.6). So the kind of participation that I am thinking about here is the one that is transformative aiming at bringing about women’s empowerment. This transformative empowerment for me should be strengthening women’s abilities to take decisions and act for themselves and maximizing the outcomes in the production process. Women’s Participation: Enabling Factors
(a) Empowering Women Politically
I want to start this section by a short discussion on answering the question, but why women’s
participation in politics? For me there is no doubt that women’s participation is crucial. As we
have already noted in chapter 2, women constitute at least half of any country’s population and
as such, they should be proportionally represented, since democracy means equal participation
by all in the politics of the country. Matembe (2002) cites several other points in favour of equal
women’s participation in politics. Firstly, women’s under-representation distances elected
representatives from part of their electorate and so can affect the legitimacy of political
decisions resulting therefrom. This can lead to public mistrust of the representative system, and
a refusal by women to accept the laws and policies that have been made without their
participation. The other point is that, political participation involves articulating, providing and
defending specific interests. I want to argue that since women are conditioned to have different
social roles, functions and values, it is reasonable to believe that they are more aware of their
own needs and are therefore better able to articulate them in political bodies.
Matembe also argues that women’s participation in politics is likely to change the focus of
politics. This is because women are more critical to traditional politics by adding new (women’s
rights and equality) issues and values to political agendas. This changes the focus and nature of
politics to make it more human-centered. Therefore increased women participation in politics is
necessary for improved social, economic, legal and cultural conditions for themselves and their
families. Together with that, I agree with the United Nations (2001) that for efficient use of
human resources, it is imperative that women are represented in politics because their absence
from positions of power impoverishes public life and inhibits the development of a just and
democratic society.
Exclusion of women in decision-making makes the political process less effective than it should
be to detriment of society as a whole. In support of this, Abidi (1990) points out that when
women’s needs are ignored, the results are; unaccountable population growth, high infant and
child mortality, a weakened economy, ineffective agriculture and deteriorating environment, and
a poorer quality of life for all. He thus contends that involving women in decision-making will
make a critical contribution towards ending poverty, remedying the gross inequalities between
people, slowing the rate of population growth, rescuing the environment, and guaranteeing
peace.
The global picture of women’s participation in political activities as contained in UNIFEM’S
report (2003) is not encouraging in my opinion. According to this report, although the goal of
increasing women’s political participation is a long-standing one; only 11 countries had reached
the 30% benchmark in 2002. These are Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Norway, Iceland,
the Netherlands, South Africa, Costa Rica, Argentina and Mozambique, all of which had used
quotas. I am in agreement with Noeleen Heyzer that there is need for women’s presence in
political decision-making positions.
But how do we enhance women’s participation in politics? In my view, this should be
demonstrated by governments’ change of policies. A good example is the Ugandan
Government that has taken a clear stand in promoting women’s advancement. When creating the Ministry of Women in Development, the President of Uganda stated “Our policy aims at strengthening the position of women in the economy by raising the value and productivity of their labour and by giving them access to and control over productive resources. By productive resources I mean land, capital, credit, seeds, fertilizers, tools, water, energy, education and information” (Ministry of Agriculture memoir, quoted in Lwanga 2001, p.2). In Kenya, I would want to say that the situation is improving because if we compare what happened in 1999 and 2002 elections, there are some notable key improvements. In 1999, there were only 9 female MPs in a house of 222 MPs. In 2003, there are 16 female MPs (six of them in the Cabinet) in a house of 224 MPs. Although this may seem very low percentage (7.1%), this is a sign of hope. This result may be attributed to what happened just before the elections. In preparation for the elections in December 2002, UNIFEM partnered with local organizations like the Kenya Women’s Political Caucus, to provide media advocacy, election monitoring, training and capacity building for women running for election (UNIFEM 2003). Many local CBOs were also involved in this process. My concept here is that if these CBOs were lead by women, the results would have been different as people would have been influenced by women’s participation and vote more in favour of women. This shows that advocacy and training is a tool we can use to increase women’s participation in CBOs and hence increase their power in decision-making positions in development activities. To encourage more participation of women in CBOs, we have to help people understand that the low level of participation of women in politics and public policy decision-making processes has led to the marginalization and increased discrimination against women in African countries. It is imperative that women should participate in policy-making, particularly at a time when a fresh vision of gender sensitive development is needed in African countries. Participation can be encouraged if we would take the opportunity of motivating women, by sharing with them success stories such as how the women pushed their agenda through during the World Summit of Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. In this Summit, women lobbied for the adoption of the women’s rights issues especially on land ownership. The women used both negotiation and demonstration techniques, while participating in Summit’s activities. The agenda was to “Promote and support efforts and initiatives to secure equitable access to land tenure and clarify resources rights and responsibilities, through land and tenure reform processes which respect the rule of law and are enshrined in national law, and to provide access to credit to all, especially to women, and that enable economic and social empowerment and poverty eradication, as well as efficient and ecologically sound utilization of land, and enable women producers to become decision-makers and owners in the sector, including the right to inherit land.” (WSSD, quoted in Dankelman, 2003, p.36)
In our agency, women can be trained also to use these strategies to push their ideas and to be
more assertive in their behaviour. So, more emphasis needs to be laid, on representation of
women by women in positions of decision-making and especially so in CBOs where most of the
development activities take place at the community level.

(b) Education and Literacy issues

In 1998, female literacy was 65% versus 84% of male in Kenya1. Many households in Kenya especially in poverty stricken areas prefer to educate their sons and marry off their daughters at a tender age. This is an attitude I feel should be addressed if female education is to be given value in Kenya and especially so in the rural areas. According to the World Bank, education of women and girls is “one of the best investments a country can make towards its future growth and welfare” (Moraa, 1999). In agreement with this statement, Margaret Lwanga says that, “in developing countries women are more involved in micro economy” (2001, p.8). This is also true in our country. That is why I feel that involving women in CBOs will bring a big boast in the economic growth of the country as most CBOs are involved in micro economy development in the rural areas. Education for me is the tool, which can be used to break the male dominance structures and in so doing bring women at a position where they can be able to influence policy. To do this, there is need to address such issues as; household socio-economic status and constraints, socio-cultural attitudes and the value attached to female education, delineation of labour at the household level which in the African context over-burdens the girl child, early marriage, teenage pregnancy with no alternative forms of education or option for re-entry after child-birth, labour market bias, and lack of motivation due to irrelevance and inappropriate organization of the curriculum and poor teaching. Our role here is to train the parents, especially to realize the value of educating a girl-child. My feeling here is that if we can start by training the young mothers, who are the majority in our churches, we would be able to acquire quick results as these are able to have a greater influence to their daughters. My experience in training women for empowerment also shows that young mothers have more influence to their husbands than old mothers do. This to me means that our training will have a long lasting effect and women empowerment will have taken root by the time these young women grow older. This can be done by encouraging girls from early stages in life, that given the same opportunities, facilities and attention they will perform as well as boys or even sometimes better. I also feel that there is a great need to address the reasons that lead to low performance of girls. These are lack of motivation, poor teaching, disenabling learning environments, gender stereotyping and misrepresentation of the roles of women and girls, and burdensome, time consuming domestic responsibilities which leave girls with little energy and little time for private study (FAWE 1991). Here again I feel as a church we have a role to play, we can organize courses for the girls and teach them about the equality of human capabilities as created by God, especially intellectual capabilities. We can also use appreciative inquiry to enable them to realize the potential they have and how to use this to empower themselves by accepting to take challenges. The curriculum is another thing that needs to be addressed to favour women’s education for better participation in development activities. According to Prof. George Eshiwani, Few educational programs on the continent have demonstrated the flexibility needed to accommodate the multiple roles of women and girls. Indeed, most programs are so rigid in organization and timing that they fail to meet the needs of their intended target groups. Gender-stereotyping in educational materials including the misrepresentation and under-valuing of the roles of women and girls serves as a distinctive, lowering the aspiration of girls because of the socio-political and economic roles of women (Eshiwani, 1983, quoted in FAWE, 1991). 1 The situation seems to have improved with the current demographic studies showing an upward trend especially with Town Districts. But in most rural Districts, the situation has not changed a lot. May be, we expect to see a new trend of events with the introduction of free primary education. To change this situation, the curriculum should be all in-cooperating and can include use of role
models (Charity Ngilu and Martha Karua – current Ministers for Health and Justice and
Constitutional Affairs respectively in Kenya) for girls, sharing of experiences and success stories
and case studies.
But why the above concern with education of women and girls? For me, after meditating about
the whole issue of education, I have come to appreciate that besides the general evidence
associated with the benefits of education in raising the overall quality of life, it is now widely
accepted that the benefits of education multiply with increased participation of girls and women.
I am therefore in agreement with UN report (2001) that “the sustained impact of girls’ primary
education on economic growth is higher than that of boys’”. This differential is due to the
multiple nature of women’s contribution in their productive and reproductive (maintenance)
roles. To create awareness on this situation, our organization has an opportunity to engage in
mass education for both men and women, but giving more emphasis on the role women can
play in CBOs development. For me, education should not only aim at training women for
household production but to empower them to participate in all levels of production. This in turn
will bring about equity in the sharing and distribution of benefits equally for the benefit of all
individuals as well as the whole community.
(c) Breaking Socio-Cultural and Religious barriers
In Kenya, women are marginally represented at all policy-making levels; everywhere the rules
just seem to be for men by men. Each time women try making steps towards advancement; we
hear those against the advancement of women call upon the wrath of culture while forgetting
that the same culture respects the women. Sexual harassment, lack of day care services and
inflexible work hours hinder women from pursuing their careers and hence participating fully in
development activities. These attitudes have their origin in traditional gender relations. In most
cultures in Africa, women have never enjoyed equality with men; they have always been
considered men’s inferiors physically and intellectually, and as property to be handed over from
fathers to husbands.
The Kenyan case is not an isolated one. This is because, as Dr. Edda Gachukia says, “the
value of most African cultures assume and reflect the generally accepted inferiority of women
embedded in mythology and ‘wise’ sayings (proverbs) that assign the female personality
inferior, stereotypical characters as simple minded, lacking in basic knowledge, wisdom and
logic” (Gachukia and Kabira, 1991). Women are portrayed as lacking in originality and genius.
My contention here is that, there is need to challenge these stereotypes on which the African
socialization systems thrive. One way of challenging the situation is by use of more credible
depictions of the many positive roles of women including profiles of positive role models. These
should be documented and used as readers or background learning/teaching materials at local
contexts. This will have a far-reaching effect on changing the low societal images of women and
hence encouraging women’s participation in developmental activities such as those undertaken
by CBOs.
The other way to encourage women participation is bringing to their attention the biblical
examples of women who broke the religious barriers imposed by their religion. A good example
of this is the story of the Syrophoenician woman who against all the requirements to stay
indoors, went out and touched Jesus’ garments (Mark 5:25-34) and was healed of her disease.
To me, this story is a clear demonstration that women have power and potential to act in
empowering themselves. But they have to take the initiative and the risk involved. They should
take all the advantages at their disposal to liberate themselves.

(d) Gender Mainstreaming and Women Empowerment
Gender mainstreaming according to United Nations is the “process of assessing the implications
for women and men of any planed action, including legislation, policies or programs, in any area
and at all levels” (UN 2001, quoted in Rao and Kelleher, 2002). To enhance women’s
participation in CBOs for me requires that we advocate for gender mainstreaming in these
organizations by advocating for gender balance and ensuring that institutional mandates,
policies and actions are shaped by a gender perspective. The way to achieve this is through
gender training on combining of gender policy with the general institutional policy (mandate) as
well as introducing clear policies and objectives, with an implicit gender orientation. The
organizations in my view should also be equipped with good information and gender-
disaggregated data. This integrated approach would have an impact of enhancing women’s
participation in CBOs’ development activities, leading to a widened share of benefits by all. This
is because as Amartya Sen says, the expansion of women’s capabilities not only enhances
women’s own freedom and well being, but also has many other effects on the lives of all. An
enhancement of women’s active agency can, in many circumstances, contribute substantially to
the lives of all people – men as well as women, children as well as adults (Sen, 2001 quoted in
Rao and Kelleher, 2002).
What we need to understand here is that gender roles are learned and are changeable. Gender
equality is a goal to ensure equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men,
and girls and boys. For me, it is also a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of
women and men an integral dimension of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of
policies and programs in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men
benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated

A closer look at the Kenyan situation may help to clarify this. The lack of a gender policy is a
clear show of our government’s lack of commitment to gender equity. The absence of such a
policy makes it difficult to monitor the impact of resource allocation on women and shows the
government’s lack of clear targets and strategies to eradicate the imbalances. Brigit Moraa
(1999) believes that affirmative action is one of the effective ways of ensuring that the women’s
problems are addressed. While I agree that affirmative action can be a starting point to assist in
solving women’s problems, my personal view here is that: what women need in today’s world is
to be empowered to be able to engage in active participation in all aspects of decision-making
rather than use of quotas or special reservations. This is because leadership keeps on changing
and if the ones who come to power are not in favour of women, then they can easily change the
policy and revert to a situation where women are not given any recognition at all.
So my suggestion here for gender mainstreaming in CBOs is training for women’s capacity
building at both the local and national levels. Here I am thinking of capacity building of women in
various forms and contexts. One of these is personal empowerment, like in the case of process
work with women in Gandhipuram’s self-learning strategy revealed that institutions like family
and marriage still hold much emotional value for people (Murthy 2001, p.210). The case study
revealed further that, changes in family and marriage institutions brought about gender-equity
changes in societal institutions’ changes such as state, religion, education institution and
workplace.
(d) Issues of Organizational Change
To enhance women’s participation in CBOs’ development activities, we have to understand how
institutional biases prevent women from participating in development. The major role of
institutions in a society is to reduce uncertainty by establishing a stable structure to human
interaction. This means that in most cases, institutions are the frameworks of rules while
organizations are the social structures within these frameworks and act to either reinforce them
or to challenge them. My contention here is that, we can use the CBOs as our entry point to
ensure that organizational decisions and actions, structure and function are founded in logic,
efficiency and rationality, where equity is given value at all levels. This would be one way of
ensuring that gender equitable outcomes are achieved.
To achieve this, there are three organizational issues to be addressed. These are traditional
power (the power to make and enforce decisions), agenda power (the power to decide what can
be talked about or even considered in organizational discourse) and hidden power (power that
shapes perceptions, cognition and preferences so that people accept that their place in the
order of things is unchangeable and “natural”) (Rao and Kelleher 2002). So for change to be
realized there is need to work for women’s perspectives to be brought in political access,
accountability systems, cultural systems and cognitive systems that have been internalized,
resulting to assumptions about internal organizational dynamics and the work itself (see Gender
mainstreaming above).
For us to achieve organizational change, we need to bring about changes that build the
organization’s capacity to challenge gender-biased institutions in the society. These changes
may include among others democratizing relations; making women’s voices more powerful in
the organization; finding ways to make the organization more accountable to women clients,
and more amenable to women’s participation; and building relations with other organizations to
further a gender-equality agenda. A good example of this is BRAC a large rural development
NGO in Bangladesh. The gender team was charged with leading a long-term effort to improve
gender equality both within BRAC and in the provision of services to poor rural women in
Bangladesh. Changing organizational norms, systems, and relationships was critical to the
change effort. The process followed was start-up, needs assessment and knowledge building,
strategic planning, training of trainers and micro-design of the program and implementation.
After two years, the most important outcomes were democratization of BRAC, and changes in
relationships between women and men and between levels of the hierarchy (see Stuart, Rao
and Kelleher, 1999).
Rao and Kelleher (2002) suggest that organizational change alone is not enough to bring about
women participation. There is need for institutional change which involves changes in strategy
and programs in order to challenge and alter institutional norms. Such an agenda will be driven
as much by women clients or women at the grassroots as by the organization. This involvement
of women for me is what we need to do if we are to achieve institutional and organizational
changes. The kind of institutional changes that we need are those that encourage policies that
are gender inclusive in decision-making, land ownership issues as well as leadership positions.
This is what we need to implement in our organizations if we are to influence the Church as an
organization, to effect changes aimed at bringing about gender equality. Achieving this will have
a direct reflection in CBOs’ performance as most of the leaders come from our churches. My
feeling and understanding here is that, to enhance women’s participation in CBOs, we must
focus on organizational change as most of hindering factors are tied to institutional structures.
(e) Leadership Training and Motivation
Leadership training and motivation for me cuts across all the factors discussed above is needed
in each one of them if success is to be achieved in enhancing women’s participation in CBOs’
development activities. Training is one of the ways we can use to centralize women’s issues
and to ensure the incorporation of their collective perspectives, experiences and contributions to
sustainable development. The kind of training I am thinking about here is the one that addresses the issues of good governance. Together with transparency, democracy and respect for human rights, institutional capacity and resources; good governance should also include equal participation of women at all levels, their access to education, training, employment and benefits. A holistic training approach is key to achieving women’s participation. If this is not taken into account, success will be limited. Irene Dankelman gives a case example: That such a holistic approach is needed was clearly shown in a study executed for Action Aid in Nepal (Johnson et al 1995); efforts to strengthen the educational capacity of girls were boycotted by women because of their effects on environmental degradation. Since, deforestation and erosion had compounded economic stress within households, this meant that pressure on children, particularly girls, to do more work and at an earlier age had increased, and less time was available to attend school. Investments in the educational sector were undermined by environmental factors, and therefore a thorough analysis of the local context was recommended along with work at all levels simultaneously (Dankelman 2003, p.23-24). This case example reveals to us that socio-cultural factor is a key issue to be considered in training as we have to know who does what in a community so as to be able to determine our entry-point in bringing about participatory development in CBOs. In such a case, a contextual approach can be used to build a process to promote gender equity perspectives. This approach may also be used to train on gender mainstreaming to create a balance in the CBOs’ structural set up and to tap the skills from different gender for sustainable development. Empowerment of women through capacity building is another way of enhancing women’s participation in CBOs. Capacity building among communities and empowerment of local women should be aimed at giving voice to their concerns. One way of doing this is to share information on how policies function, and how to influence them, as well as legal literacy training. Enhancing knowledge and strengthening skills such as public speaking and human relations can help local women groups as well as individuals in strengthening their self-esteem and power in decision-making. Another area I feel training can enhance women’s participation in CBOs is on the aspects of peace-building and conflict transformation. This is because conflicts and absence of security have a major impact on the lives, livelihoods and development opportunities of communities, and have particular effects on women and children. Therefore peace-building and conflict-prevention are of paramount importance. Women often play an important promoting role in these efforts. In this part, I have highlighted the importance of women’s participation in CBOs and the factors that can enhance this. The factors discussed here are not exclusive but selected according to what is in line with my paper. The key issues raised in this part include; Political empowerment of women for better participation, Leadership training for women and organizational leaders, Educating women for knowledge and awareness creation of their potential and abilities, Breaking Socio-Cultural and Religious barriers for action, Gender Mainstreaming for equality in decision-making and policy implementation, and Organizational Change for institutional and structural changes. The discussion as a whole reveals that women play a very major role in the realm of development and for any development to succeed they should not be ignored. If given the opportunity to participate, they bring the balance required in gender complementarity and widen the scope of benefits realized in development
activities undertaken and especially so in CBOs which are the main development agents at the community
level.
Lessons Learned in this Paper
♦ One of the lessons I have learned from this paper is that, the position of CBOs is in most cases influenced by socio-economic and political realities, but, given a chance, women can help to broaden the vision of these CBOs and hence enhance efficiency and productivity. So, women’s participation in these CBOs should be encouraged while at the same time interacting with the socio-economic and political realities in context. ♦ Education is a key issue in enhancing women’s participation in CBOs as it has to do with empowerment in that it is a tool for skill development and trust and confidence building. As an empowerment tool, education is a process of exposing the oppressive power of the existing gender relations, critically challenging them, and creatively trying to shape different social relations. This for me is very illuminating because despite how long it takes, women’s participation in CBOs will be slowly by slowly incorporated in, and their influence in decision-making will gradually be felt. ♦ Affirmative action and gender mainstreaming are necessary for enhancing women’s participation in CBOs. This is so for me because I have been convinced that, women’s empowerment for participation entails a process of struggle at both personal and collective levels. So using women in positions of power will be one way of influencing other women to take up challenging positions in leadership, and hence building confidence and motivation. This should go together with enhancing women’s role in empowering themselves by being assertive in their places of work. ♦ Organizational changes in form of structural and institutional changes are necessary to enhance women’s participation in CBOs. This calls us to examine the current organizations and see where we can implement possible structural changes to accommodate women, thereby bringing in their aspects in decision-making.
Way Forward, Recommendations and Conclusion
♦ There is need to incorporate more training programs for women empowerment in our organizations.
These programs should be aimed at bringing in the aspect of gender balance and the importance of women’s participation in CBOs as these are the main vehicles of development in our rural communities. ♦ I also recommend that we introduce gender mainstreaming, as this would have an effect of bringing about balance in decision-making and sharing of benefits between males and females and the society at large. ♦ I also feel there is a need for transformative capacity building for women. This should aim at enhancing the knowledge and skills of women with a view of positively changing their condition and position in the society, to that of being active participants rather than being passive recipients of male-dominated decisions in the community. This is to allow women to have access to and control over societal resources and enjoy equal opportunities with men at all levels. To achieve this, transformative gender training should integrate an analysis of issues of power, privilege, culture and tradition with access and control over resources, and project oriented gender training, which is limited to project implementation and aims at achieving a more efficient delivery of gender equity. If this can be achieved, then I would say that, we would have achieved overcoming the factors that limit women’s participation in CBOs and more participation would come into action. However, as the African saying goes that, ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step’, we need to be patient with the whole process because change does not come in a day. Overall, this would result to balanced community development and hence a step forward in poverty eradication in our communities. REFERENCES
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