Friday, 17 May 2013

Coastal Women break the silence

Women living along the Kenyan Coast are engaging the decision-makers and taking much more leadership roles than they did a few years ago. Sauti Ya Wanawake (The Voice of Women) has grown pari passu with the movement of the same name. Dorcas Gibran was one of the founding mothers of the Sauti Ya Wanawake (SYW) network that now counts around 6,500 women organised in 38 chapters scattered across the Cost region of Kenya. 

“Sauti brings together poor and often illiterate women. The spirit behind Sauti is equality of all with none behaving as more superior. We have told women that it is OK to speak up, and women from all corners of this region are now making noise when need be. That’s tremendous progress,” Dorcas Gibran said.

The Taita Taveta Transformation
In the past decade, Dorcas has pushed for gender equality in her hometown of Taita Taveta, which is also the home of one of SYWs chapters. Her push for women’s right got tailwind in 2012, when ActionAid scaled up its support and SYW could use more resources to engage the public in decision-making. 

“We arranged public hearings where we got the local politicians and administrators to participate. At the meetings, we confronted them with mismanaged public projects; Issues around Gender Based Violence and we asked the public to be engaged in public funds like the constituency Development Fund and the bursary fund. When we put the leaders in the limelight, they tend to act less corrupt and more transparent,” Dorcas Gibran explained after a public session with around 500 spectators. The session was the first on a 3-day caravan covering five towns in Taita Taveta county.
Members of the town council in Taita Taveta confirmed from the stage, that SYW has become important sparring partners when it plans development projects, health care, and social services. Town clerk Sharif Mohammed Rashid later explained how SYW is now the advisor and the watchdog to the administration.

“SYW has really amplified the voice of women.  They are looking after the work of the Town Council and the administration. They have ensured better working conditions for the waste collectors, they worked with us when planning a new market; and they have organised a rescue centre, helping women and children who has been subject to Gender Based Violence,” Mohammed Rashid said.
The administration and the council of Taveta are now availing information about its development projects to the public on notice boards and on an internet page.

“SYW has made an important push for openness and transparency in the administration. The days were it was a few politicians and I who were interested in budgeting are over. Instead of serving the politicians, I am now serving the entire town. In return, SYW are our eyes and ears in the community. They make sure we know what is happening, and they get back to us, if we are not delivering as they expect,” Mohammed Rashid continued.