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KENYA: Empowering Women through Micro-Finance Credit

Miriam Gathigah

KIAMBU COUNTY, Kenya, Jun 21 2011 (IPS) - Without a college education and against the backdrop of limited job opportunities, it was not easy for Salome Wairimu to find employment.

Each day ushered in more worries and uncertainties, sometimes she would have work but often days would go by before she had an opportunity to make money.

The single mother of two from Kiambu County, in Central Kenya, led a financially uncertain life before the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) provided her with an opportunity that transformed her financial situation.

Official government statistics show an estimated 40 percent of Kenyans are unemployed. Millions survive by doing occasional work – non-permanent manual work.

The situation is worse for women in rural areas. High numbers of rural women are illiterate and at least 70 percent work as small-scale farmers, providing the bulk of Kenya’s food supply. Their wages are dismally low and often uncertain.

Wairimu, who also lives in a rural area, also faced an uncertain future. She completed high school with a grade that allowed her entrance to college but her peasant parents could not afford the fees. So she began plaiting women’s hair to earn money.

“While in high school I would plait my schoolmates’ hair for a few coins. On completing school and with no employment and even worse, no capital, I couldn’t set up a salon,” Wairimu explains.

For six years she worked from her home. But it was not a regular business and she had difficulty attracting new customers.

“It was very frustrating because why would they come to my house instead of going to the salon where there are facilities to wash and dry their hair before braiding? I needed a work station and equipment to diversify my services.”

In 2007 Wairimu attended a women’s group meeting and learnt about government’s drive to empower women economically through the WEF.

Women could apply for loans that would be repaid in instalments over a predetermined period. And after they successfully completed paying the first loan, women would be eligible for a second and even a third loan of greater amounts.

“I was not very excited then because there were all these rumours about this initiative being a government ploy to woo women voters. But I continued attending the meetings and I was convinced that it was a good idea. They required no collateral, so it was very enticing.”

Together with nine other women, Wairimu formed a group to access the money, one of the Fund’s requirements. Each woman had their own business venture but received about 600 dollars each. They paid the loan back within the first year and qualified for a second loan of the same amount.

“Being from the rural area, it meant that I could afford to rent a commercial room in town and pay rent for the first three months, including the deposit,” Wairimu says.

She adds that it was something she could not have done without the loan. “With a strategic place to attract customers, I began expanding my client base. With the profit I made, including what little was left from the loan, I bought equipment to diversify my services.”

Wairimu’s group is only one of the 3, 913 groups that received loans since the inception WEF. She has now managed to change her family’s circumstances from being poor, to comfortably middle-class.

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