About Siaya, Kenya
Siaya, Kenya is located on the eastern banks of Lake Victoria. Governed by James Orengo, Siaya is an economic hub with massive potential for providing for the country’s needs and serves as the capital of Siaya County, which is made up of six constituencies: Ugenya, Ugunja, Alego Usonga, Gem, Bondo, and Rarieda.
Siaya County performs below the national average on most socio-economic indicators. The county scores 0.46 on the Human Development Index (HDI)—a composite measure of development that combines indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment, and income. This is below the national average of 0.56.
Poverty is prevalent in the county and manifests itself in other socio-economic outcomes such as poor nutrition, health, and education, as well as a lack of access to basic services. A key intersection for all these critical areas of concern is the right of women to menstrual hygiene, management, and sanitation, which leads to period poverty.
Based on the research of Dr. Irene Awino, our Postdoctoral collaborator from Villanova University, we learned that the girls and women of Siaya experience these issues more negatively because of a gendered social system that prioritizes patriarchy at the expense of women’s emancipation. While in Siaya, we saw first-hand that access to quality education, health services, water, and sanitary products is a challenge that disproportionately affects women and girls at the intersection of class, ability, age, motherhood, and marital and family status. We were however inspired by the spirit of sisterhood in the community that has resulted in development initiatives that are economically empowering, mentally uplifting, and socially influential in changing the plight of many women and girls. We saw the women engage in programs such as table banking, peer-peer mentorship, promotion of girl-child education, and awareness about the benefits for everyone when women’s voices are heard.
We also highlight the long and arduous journey for women in elective positions in Siaya, especially in South East Alego Ward, which has, for the first time in Kenya’s independence history, elected a women as a member of the county assembly. The fight for women’s rights is a global battle with many stories of challenges and progress. Each context is different, and while we acknowledge women’s universal voices for gender justice, we seek to tell the rich story of the women in Siaya, Kenya.
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Siaya Muungano Network
The Siaya Muungano Network is a women’s rights and youth development community-based organization that focuses on amplifying the voices of women and children to promote Gender Equality, Civic Education, Good Governance and Accountability, Economic Empowerment for Women and Youth Community and Health Education and Advocacy in their community. Siaya Muungano Network provided Oak Tree Films with generous support in meeting many individuals with stories of empowerment.
Through the Siaya Muungano Network, we were afforded the opportunity to meet so many different people, from students at schools to Chiefs and Community Leaders. We thank Siaya Muungano Network for giving us the opportunity to amplify the stories of those we met while in Kenya.
Some of the initiatives that Siaya Muungano Network coordinates include:
Women & Youth Led Advocacy: "We strengthen the capacity of women and youth in advocacy, organize them around a common agenda; support them to access information; help them understand tools and mechanisms to influence change and work with them to push and monitor the change they want."
Husika Dada Initiative: "This provides a space for women especially young women to consolidate and discuss emerging issues that affect women in health, participation and livelihood. Through this space they recommend actions that resonate with their status and engage with community structures and duty bearers to support the change actions."
Youth Inspire: "This model applies the concept of Do It Yourself to inspire. Through this model young women and men out of school are trained in short module skills for job creation. Its overall goal is to help young women and men acquire the skills they need to become empowered and fulfill their potential."
Women's Rights in Kenya
The patriarchal cultural and institutional structures have contributed to the subjugation
of women and girls, consequently leading to gender inequalities.
The Borgen Project is a nonprofit organization that addresses global poverty. According to Borgen Project, Kenyan women are earning 32% less than their male counterparts. The lost wages mean that women have fewer financial resources to support themselves or care for their families and communities.
Dangerous Silence Surrounding Gender-Based Violence
In Kenya, gender-based violence often goes unreported, unrecognized, and unpunished. Those in power contribute to this dangerous practice; for example, instances, where police officers and chiefs are bribed to remain silent about violence against women, are common.
Customary law controls decisions regarding traditional customs, such as divorce, marriage, inheritance, and family matters. The customary preference of men over women tends to impact women in jobs, prestige, and more.
Structural Barriers to Formal Education
Due to poverty, many boys and girls face challenges in attaining quality education. For girls, the situation is dire. Lack of water and sanitation has hampered menstrual hygiene leading to period poverty. Girls often miss school during their menstrual cycles for lack of sanitary towels and this erodes their dignity, plus their success in the classroom. The increased need for sanitary products and upkeep has seen male actors in the communities take advantage of this vulnerability, resulting in early marriages, and teenage pregnancies. These often result in school drop-outs for these young girls, denying them the opportunity for upward mobility in the socio-economic ladder. Other gendered challenges to education include parental neglect, harassment andintergenerational misunderstandings.
The 2010 Kenyan Constitution was monumental in guaranteeing women's participation in politics through the 2/3rds gender rule, denoting that 33% of parliamentarians should be women. It also allocated funds for women to gain financial and economic independence, however, it has been difficult for women in rural areas to access these funds. Article 21 states that: "All State organs and all public officers have the duty to address the needs of vulnerable groups within society, including women, older members of society, persons with disabilities, children, youth, members of minority or marginalised communities, and members of particular ethnic, religious or cultural communities." Article 27 states that: "Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres."
Despite the efforts of the 2010 Constitution, the feasibility and efficacy of the implementation of these policies have been lacking. Women still face discrimination and violence with limited, inconsistent support from the government and other authorities. In Her Time is Now, we hope to tell the story of Siaya women as they navigate the journey of harnessing “education as empowerment and empowerment as education”.
Education Rights in Kenya
The gender gap in education has been evident, particularly during the transition between primary and secondary school. Efforts have been implemented to promote universal education; however, girls still lag behind boys in mathematics and the sciences. Some factors that influence gender inequality are wealth and period poverty. In the patriarchy of Kenya, boys' educations are prioritized in families of all incomes, and the lack of access to sanitary products for girls impacts their school attendance.
Some possible solutions for gender inequality in education include 1) teachers being more gender-sensitive; 2) parental encouragement of education regardless of gender; 3) schools providing sanitary products for girls; 4) providing a safe and sanitary environment for girls; 5) abolishing practices that keep girls out of school. Our documentaries, Her Time is Now and NINA aim to address educational inequalities for both female and disabled students. On the initiative front, we seek to alleviate issues of period poverty by providing Dignity Kits for the girls and women of Siaya.