"Before, I really thought that only employed people would prepare a planning and budget for farming businesses" says Agnes Nyaruai, a small scale trader from Laikipia County in Kenya. During the past six months, Mrs. Agnes and her husband participated in facilitated household dialogues in which they and others discussed the gender norms in their households and the community and learned how changes in these gender norms could enhance the success of their business.
The household dialogues were implemented by local partners of SNV in eight arid and semi-arid counties in Kenya during a six month period. In total, 153 households participated in twelve dialogue sessions during which they reflected on three key gender norms: time-use, control over and use of income and finally access to credit and decision-making. Behaviour change in these three norms contributes to women’s empowerment resulting in strengthened women’s entrepreneurship and improved access to inputs and business assets in the sectors where the majority of women’s businesses operate: agriculture and renewable energy. The household dialogue in the programme has helped the households to initiate and implement effective communication, especially on matters that traditional culture has created demarcations on between spouses, like time-use and control over income.
Balancing the use of time between spouses
The participants started their discussion on the topic of time-use. The sessions focused on understanding the importance of time in running a successful business, exploring changes in contemporary society and how new technologies can help create time efficiency. The couples discussed how they use and divide their time between productive (income-generating) and reproductive work (household and caretaking chores). Through this exercise most participants realised that the women spend most of their time on reproductive work, while the men spent much less time on these tasks. Participants became aware of the impact of this unequal division on the women's businesses.
After these sessions most of the men felt encouraged to share the responsibility for gender-neutral tasks, like fodder harvesting and livestock feeding. A few of the participating men even dared to conduct tasks that were seen as a ‘woman’s job’, like preparing meals, washing clothes and warming water for bathing. Male participants also decided to invest in technologies that would reduce the time spend on reproductive tasks within their households, like solar lanterns, water tanks and energy efficient cookstoves. "I have reduced the time I spend on reproductive work with 3 hours per day and use it to work on my vegetable business," says Ann Njeri, who participated in the household dialogues in Laikipia County. "My husband and I decided to buy an additional dairy goat and potato seeds. We will sell the milk to neighbours and increase our potato production to sell at the market."
Reducing the cow herd to increase income
The second key gender norm that inhibits women’s empowerment and their success in business is control over and the use of income. During the household dialogues participants specifically discussed the questions 'who spends the money and on what' and 'who makes the decisions.' Agnes Nyaruai, a small scale trader from Laikipia County explains that these sessions were an eye opener to her family. Before participating in the EOWE programme, Agnes and her husband had four dairy cows with a milk production of only 5 liters per day. "Through the household dialogues I learned how to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, which made me realise that income generation is not about the number of cows we have, but the level of productivity per cow." explains Agnes. "After I participated in these sessions without my husband, I wanted to share with him my idea to sell some of the cows. Even though I initially feared to present the subject to my husband, I gathered courage and explained to him that the cows were consuming much of the family’s resources, yet the return on this investment was negligible."
As a result of the dialogue sessions, Agnes and her husband openly discussed the issue and developed ways of improving their income. "We discussed the issue together with our children late into the night. I am very glad that we agreed to sell the entire herd." From the earnings, Agnes and her husband bought one high breed dairy cow which produces 12 liters of milk per day. The couple also hired a farm labourer who takes care of the daily feeding and management of the cow. Agnes’ husband has also bought a second-hand pick-up truck to reduce Agnes’ workload especially during the dry season when they have to buy fodder from far. "I have saved time, resources and energy. Now we know how to control and diversify resources for more and better gains as a family." concludes Agnes.
Getting a loan to grow their business
Having attended the household dialogue in Baringo, Wilson agrees with his wife that the most significant change that has happened in their household was the communication and joint decision to get a loan from a local micro finance institution called Jiweze Women Group in Kabarnet Town. The couple borrowed Ksh 30,000 in August 2017 (about €250). Of the loan, they used Ksh 16,000 (about €130) to buy a dairy cow and Ksh 6,000 (around €47) to restock their vegetable business that had been closed for a while because of lack of finance. They used the rest of the money to pay school fees for their children. To secure this loan, the couple agreed to give their three goats, household furniture and television as collateral. The couple is now using the income they get from selling vegetables and milk to repay their loan. "My wife and I are now business partners. She runs both these businesses and I support in the dairy business. I am also involved in the vegetable business because we use the income we get from both businesses to repay the loan. By using income from both, I am sure that we can reclaim ownership on the items that we gave as collateral back." says Wilson.
Overcoming power imbalances through the household dialogues
"In my home, expression of divergent views is no longer seen as a challenge on my authority as the head of the family but as an opportunity to understand each other’s view and reach a compromise that will advance our family. My children are part of the change that we are experiencing." Agnes’ husband explains. Mutuku Mbau from Makueni shares the same view and is happy that his children, including his boys, are taking part in reproductive roles without fear of what society will say because they as a household are modeling these changes for the wider community. Like several other families, Agnes Nyaruai concludes by saying that "happiness in the family is founded on dialogue." Rael explains that her husband feared to borrow the money from a financial institution but has now overcome this fear because of their participation in the household dialogues. Using the family assets as collateral is something that she had discussed with him for a long time without a breakthrough. "The household dialogues triggered my husband to change. Thank you for your support." she adds. "We will be able to pay our loan on time and we are happier as a couple."