Walking the dirt roads of my village in Kakamega subcounty, Kakamega County you will encounter at least five women making French fries or what is commonly referred to as ‘chipo mwitu’ and other local delicacies for sale using sawdust jikos by the roadside. These locally manufactured jikos use a maximum of three pieces of firewood to burn at any given moment as compared to the charcoal jikos or the three cooking stones that entirely used firewood.
These women in their own little way are contributing to this year’s theme of the International Day of Rural Women and the International Day of the Girl Child celebrated every 15th of October and 11th of October respectively. This year’s themes for the days being: Rural women and girls building resilience and My voice; my equal future respectively.
One may ask why these two days are celebrated so closely together. The truth is: even I do not know. However, I have found the themes to perfectly merge and corelate. Girls grow into women and women raise girls. I will delve into the first one: On this year’s International Day of Rural Women, UN Women is calling for action to support rural women and girls and grow their capacities to respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security, and natural resources management.
Why climate change? Why rural women? Climate change has been a topic of discussion in the United Nations from the year 1992 when the “Earth Summit” produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Twenty-nine years later, the discussion is still vibrant but the effects of climate change are even more aggressive today: wildfires in California, USA; bushfires in Australia that almost razed down an entire ecosystem to the ground; the most recent floods in New York City, China and Italy and the extreme snow storms in Texas earlier this year. The effects of climate change in Africa cannot be understated. The extreme drought that Kenya is currently experiencing and the rising lakes in the Rift Valley are just but a few examples of how climate change has affected our country.
Rural women, while highly neglected in this discussion, play an important role in the managing of climate change in Africa. Agricultural practices in Kenya are carried out mostly in the rural areas and more women work in agriculture. Safe agricultural practices that are carried out in the rural areas, like using compost manure and animal manure instead of industrial fertilizers, are very noteworthy in the preservation of the soils and non-contamination of our water bodies from the chemicals in industrial fertilizers. The use of rabbit urine as a pesticide has reduced the environmental damage that is caused by chemical pesticides in rural areas. More fish are thriving in the streams and rivers in rural areas than in the water bodies in urban centers. Managing agricultural practices will play a great role in helping manage climate change and the government can encourage mass production of this organic manure and maximize its use instead of constantly distributing industrial fertilizers.
Rural women in Kenya have also taken the tree planting exercise a notch higher with the Green Belt Movement. This movement, founded in 1977 by the Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, is responsible for distributing seedlings to the rural women. Tree planting has aided many rural communities restore their water catchment areas and Kakamega Forest and the Mau Forest are just but a few examples. The more trees planted, the more rain is experienced, and the more food harvested hence averting drought and hunger that is currently being experienced in many parts of Africa.
Every single time rain pours in my village, the drainages are blocked, the roads flood and the number of plastic bottles that float in the flowing waters will break the heart of any environmentalist to pieces. Kenya took a definite step to ban the use of plastic paper bags in the country in 2018. However, the use of the plastic bags in the rural areas has not declined, to say the least with most small business using them for packaging. When speaking to Marita (not her real name) in Shikhambi village in Kakamega County, she intimated that although the women are willing to adhere to the government’s directive, it is more expensive to purchase the new cloth paper bags (popularly known in my village as Uhuru bag) while the plastic paper bags are easily and cheaply available from Uganda where plastic bags are still legal. This initiative to save our planet cannot be done by the women in my village alone or those in my county, it’s a collective effort between government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the general public. Educating Marita and other rural women on the effect of plastic on our environment and consequently to the future generations will have a positive impact not only the girls but entire households.
Education in all forms is vital to giving women and girls a voice to speak against climate change, gender-based violence, menstrual right, social justice and oppressive politics. Women and girls in the rural areas need to not only know that they play an important role in the conversations that matter but also that their voices matter. Civic and sex education among girls and women will not only ensure that they are more self-aware but also self-reliant. Women should be encouraged to take up leadership positions to enable them influence policy making in the sectors that affect them most. Like I said earlier, girls grow into women and women raise girls so these roles should be taken up by girls as early as they possibly can.
So, this year as the world celebrates these two very important days, take a moment to give a pat on the back to that mama mboga, that farmer that ensures you get organic meals on your table and that woman who washes your clothes and cleans your house. Remember to also acknowledge all the mothers, grandmothers, sisters and nieces who reside in our villages. Let us remind these women of the importance they play when it comes to not only climate change but also bettering the world through their voices.
As Melinda Gates puts it, “a woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.” May we all be the voices for climate change, equality in representation, menstrual stigma and health, the voices against domestic and gender-based violence in any form or shape and oppressive politics. May we encourage the women and girls around us to be voices that will not be silenced even under the direst of circumstances.
To all the girls and the rural women out there, YOU ARE IMPORTANT and YOUR VOICES MATTER. Happy International Day of the Girl Child and Happy International Day of the Rural Women 2021.
The author is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya with 6 years’ experience in Conveyancing, Commercial law and Litigation with a bias to family, employment and children law, a Certified Professional Mediator, a YALI Leader and a Legal Consultant and Researcher.