GENDER CONSTRUCTION IN SELF-HELP GROUPS
Abstract: The focus of the study is to establish the implications of the integrated efforts in self-help movement while considering the long standing women’s associations and their support for households. A sample of 145 individuals was selected through stratified systematic random sampling. Data were collected using interview schedules, questionnaires, oral interview guides, and focus group discussions. The study employed descriptive analysis because of the qualitative nature of the data. T-tests were, however, carried out on a few variables which could be quantified. The study findings have revealed that mixed-sex groups provided an opportunity to venture into a variety of activities with an economic orientation. Groups varied significantly due to factors related to resource access, culture and education. Women-only groups were at a disadvantage because of their relation to the means of production. Management was a problem for all of the groups, calling for an intensive training in leadership and management skills. 1. INTRODUCTION
The self-help group movement has been regarded as an important tool in institutional building that many students of Rural Development regard as a major factor for realizing the various objectives of development efforts in rural areas. Africa has recorded extensive female solidarity organizations (Staudt 1986 in Robertson and Berger 1988). This may explain the amount of work done on women-only groups. Women-only groups have existed in Kenya since pre-independence (Wagnaraja 1990 in Chitere and Mutiso 1991). The foundation of this can be traced to the formation of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization, the now giant Umbrella Organization for women in Kenya. By 1958, it was aimed at improving conditions for women and girls. Many of these groups came into existence in response to the urgent problems of women that included poverty, inadequate supply of basic necessities such as water, health services and food (Wagnaraja 1990 in Chitere and Mutiso 1992). This collective response to a needy situation, which is traced within the traditional division of labour framework, has been the driving force behind their dominant role in the rural economy. At independence, the government of Kenya embarked on the Harambee Self-help Movement as an all-encompassing grassroots effort to meet the people’s needs. Its characteristics included local identification of needs, local-level mobilization and local-level implementation of projects which appeared to solve the local needs (Mbithi 1974). It is, however, observed that during the earlier days, the groups were informal in nature and functioned as mutual aid groups. Today, some of these groups have a more defined organizational structure and carry out activities that meet the group’s felt needs and also those of the community at large. The group movement received more impetus after the UN Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975 and the UN Decade for Women, 1975-1985. Emphasis was laid on the formation of national machinery such as Women Bureaus and National Councils which gave significance to women’s issues and activities. It was argued that women were a marginalized group and should be supported through such group activities (Dolphyne 1991; Sigot et al. 1995). An interesting observation however is that these movements seem to do very well in some parts of the country but not in others with almost an equal economic potential. For instance, the self-help activities in Central Province have favourably led to the evolution of the present day independent cooperatives, where members carry out projects and business ventures (Stamp 1975).The activities they carry out include buying farms, businesses, water tanks, cows, etc. Stamp (1975) points out that what has made them grow is their entrepreneurial spirit. On the other hand, Western Province has very little to offer except welfare activities. The concept of Women in...
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