In The Face Of Adversity, Gender and Culture Could Not Stop Her

Project: Learning Project 12th March 2018

In the upcoming global conference ‘Preparing for Shock: Is Preparedness the New Frontier?’ taking place in Geneva on 14th and 15th March, we will be exploring approaches to inclusive preparedness programming, and hear from local implementing staff, national networks, global programmers and researchers who have first-hand knowledge on these areas. For more information about the conference, please visit our event page here.

In this blog post leading up to our conference, Blandina Bobson, Country Learning Advisor for Kenya, reflects on how women’s groups are accessing economic opportunities, which enable them to cope with drought. She shares the story of Halima Liban, who opened her own butcher’s business.  

45 year old Halima Liban is a wife and mother of ten children: six girls, of which five are married, and four boys.  Halima is a role model to fellow women in the community for her achievements which have defied both gender and cultural stereotypes and contributed significantly to the larger Dirib Gombo community in Marsabit County.

In 2016, Halima together with 34 other women came together to form a women’s group with an objective of supporting each other to cope with day to day challenges, which were made worse by the recurrent droughts in Marsabit. Being part of the minority Watta community that faces discrimination due to their past hunter and gatherer lifestyle meant that they were left to deal with any issues affecting them on their own, contrary to the communal support the other tribes extend to each other whenever they are faced by disasters. Resource allocation to their communities is also insignificant since they lack representation in the different platforms where such decisions are made.

Halima was determined to change her life and that of her family especially at a time when putting food on the table was a struggle for each household in Dirib Gombo, irrespective of their ethnicity. A majority of the population had lost their livestock due to the drought, which is their source of livelihood. In June 2017, Halima took a loan worth KES 50,000 from the women’s group and invested it in a butchery business. A business venture that is known to be dominated by men in her community, maybe by virtue of the fact that women do not own livestock. Little did she know this business will transform her life and that of her community.  She spent KES 3,900 on acquiring a business permit, KES 800 on a public health license, KES 6,000 on one month’s rent and one month’s deposit, KES 500 on Medical Health certificate; and with the support of her husband she bought six goats at KES 30,000. The balance was used to buy the tools she needed, like weighing scales, machetes and knives.

It has been nine months (as of June 2017) and Halima says her business is going well. On a good day, she would slaughter and sell three goats. She also sells the hides at KES 100 which she treats with salt to get rid of the smell. The hides are used to make traditional artefacts and also for bedding. Through the proceeds from her business, Halima has been able to feed and pay school fees for her five children, three of whom are in primary school, one in secondary school and an older boy who finished high school last year. “I paid KES 14,950 for my daughter who is at St. Monica’s High School in Nakuru and only have a balance of KES 50 to clear her fees. I also pay KES 1,100 for my sons in primary school for the examination fee and stipend for one of the teachers employed by the community”, said Halima with a smile on her face. Halima’s husband walks in as I glance through her records book which was given in response to my question of how much profit she makes in a day. Earlier on she had mentioned that she is semi – illiterate and I wondered how she is able to keep such neat records, ’My wife taught me to keep the records’’, interjected the husband who I am made to understand works as a day guard in a nearby primary school. “I support her in managing the business by monitoring it. I also bid for the goat prices in the market then come to collect for money from her to pay for the goats, see the bag on her waist, she keeps all the money’ , added the husband.

Halima and her family are not the only ones enjoying the benefit of this business; earlier on in the women group’s meeting, her group members indicated that her butchery was the only one in Dirib Gombo and now community members don’t have to go all the way to Marsabit to buy meat like they did before. By 4pm, all the meat is usually sold – an indication of the demand of this type of business in Dirib Gombo.

Whenever disasters strike, women  like Halima suffer the most  because in cases of drought, the men migrate with the animals in search of pasture and water; and in cases where they livestock die, the households have nothing to fall back on to cushion themselves from the effects of drought.  The grant that the women’s group received gave Halima an opportunity to drive change in her community by diversifying her family’s livelihood, bring services near the people of this community and break the gender and cultural barriers that have always stood in the way  of empowering women to contribute to disaster preparedness and management, even though they are the first responders when disasters strike.


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