The Government established the Women enterprise Fund in 2007 to promote Gender equality and Women Empowerment. The Fund has been able to provide affordable credit to more than 500 000 women across the country, who would not otherwise have accessed credit to the tune of Sh 2.4 billion.
They have also built their capacities in terms of loan management, business skills and enterprise development. The women have also been supported to access markets locally and internationally. The Fund beliefs that a holistic approach in promoting women economic empowerment will achieve a lasting impact as opposed to a credit only approach.
Women Enterprise Fund, a Vision 2030 flagship project, is an affirmative action to addressing the 3rd Millennium Development Goal on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. Meaning that sooner than later the women may have to be weaned from the low cost, collateral free loans and will be forced to operate in a free market economy dictated by the forces of supply and demand.
This being the case therefore and knowing the high cost of borrowing money currently and possibly in the future the Fund believes that for women to gain true financial independence it is paramount that they be supported/ guided to establish their own financial institutions both in towns and in the rural areas.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Cooperative Development and Marketing it has embarked on a countrywide sensitisation on the importance of Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies. During the months of March to June 2012, more than 4,200 women learned about cooperatives. Savings and Credit cooperatives will afford the women the financial independence they have been yearning for.
They have various needs such as taking children to school, health care, clothing, food among others. These cannot be catered for through the Fund since the Fund concentrates only on the business activities. Therefore Saccos are powerful social economic activities capable of transforming women's lives. As Somerset Maugham said, "Money is the sixth sense, without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five."
It is important to note that communities in the rural areas most of whom are women lacking financial skills and more often than not those who purport to assist them are profit - oriented and end up leaving women poorer than they found them. It is therefore critical to promote a system where people are in control and are part and parcel of the institutions.
What better way than to do it through the time - tested institutions such as savings and credit cooperative societies. Savings and Credit Societies have emerged as powerful tools to deal with problems of rural development. Agricultural production is always a gamble in rains , vagaries of weather , price fluctuations , drought and other natural calamities that contribute to the uncertainties of agriculture which include heavy expenses during planting season and post harvest losses.
These variations and fluctuations in sources and uses of liquidity make it difficult for rural enterprises to manage their cash flow effectively. Therefore, loans and savings of Saccos can be of great help in managing the deficits. "The principle which prompts us to save is the desire of bettering our conditions, a desire which though generally calm and dispassionate comes with us from the womb and, never leaves us until one goes to the grave."
The common belief that rural populations and poor people have no funds to save is a fallacy. Indeed through the self help groups popularly known as "chamas" have mobilised millions of shillings. However, this money is at times with micro finance institutions who then lend it to women at very interest rates. Something must be done to avert continued poverty and deprivation among the local population.
Formation of Savings and Credit Cooperatives will not only promote economic empowerment, but also build their capacities in business skills and leadership. Indeed women economic empowerment is the enabler of all other forms of empowerment. Therefore women," seek ye first economic empowerment and all the other forms of empowerment shall be added unto you."
Esther C Mutai - Marketing, Research and Communication Manager Women Enterprise Fund.