Happy Women's Month

Invest in women

Zawadisha's women march on the IWD

An African Woman's Take on How To #BeBoldForChange

International Women's Day and Women's History Month is about celebrating the role of women and campaigning for their rights. Africa is in a phase, where almost everything matters and still nothing matters at the same time. It is a continent straddling old and new – traditional ways of life intertwined with fast-growing economies – it remains at times looking for its new identity. And it is this traditional way of life that is changing, at times for the worst, but at times, with regards to women's rights, for the better.

International Women's Day from an African woman perspective had its own phase. Women are being celebrated in Africa and this is forming a new wave. The media has shaped some of our perspectives on how women are observed, especially in urban areas.

However, to most us, celebrating the day of women takes us back. You see, an African woman experiences the proverbial nine lives of a cat. She is a wife, a mother, a farmer, a carpenter, a teacher, a priest, a counselor, a creator. All of this wrapped together in a box inside her: the phenomenal woman, with the nine lives vibrantly living in her heart.


With her little exposure, knowledge, and education, she was (or is at times) believed to be a slave to her masters, the male counterparts. She was best suited in the kitchen, tirelessly cooking for her large family hour after hour.The kitchen firewood smoke burnt her graceful eyes, her fingers soaked in black dust from the charcoal. She bore few scratches as she split the firewood using the axes. She carried jerry cans on her back, in her head, from streams kilometers away. She cannot afford a rest. Her beloved family would greatly suffer. No one empathized with her and bails her out, even for a day.

She religiously pleased her man. Gave birth like she was paid to do so. Yet she lived in extreme poverty. Her station was after all in the house, at the family farm, at home. Year in and out, her belly popped, and a child was born. And the cycle repeated itself.

She toiled the farm with a baby on the back, under the scorching sun, she endured the cold July, with her baby gently wrapped in lesos under a banana tree. She woke up early to prepare her children to school before the cock and prayed for her families before day began. The wee hours of the morning, as the majority are still tossing in bed, saw her up, chirping together with the beautiful birds, ready to usher the day, ready to live her nine lives. Ready to make a mark in the society.

This woman has been too powerful, yet it’s hard to believe, with all her armour, with all her hidden strength, she was under authority. She was invisible and unheard. She was neglected, abused, rejected, and undermined. She wished, dreamed, and hoped.

This month we celebrate this woman who has been fighting for her liberation, for her freedom, for her education. She has accomplished and conquered the odds. She is liberated, she is educated and she now makes her choices on her own. She has fought hard to be a teacher, a banker, a doctor, a farmer and all. She continues to cause rumble because of who she is. All that was needed was a little awakening of her vibrant nine lives, which she has multiplied to became a career woman, an advocate of her rights, an educationist in her society, a role model.

She continues to soar higher every day through the enlightenment. She is no longer a voiceless kitchen being who had no life off home, who never in her wildest dreams could imagine the feel of the wheel, who never imagined could be an advocate for her rights with no fear of shut-down, who never imagined herself going for a holiday at the beach, and just soak in the sand as she enjoys her breeze on her back. She is gracefully conquering heights and making tremendous impact in her life and society. She is at the forefront to make a world a better place, and whenever she goes, her presence cannot be ignored. You inhale her presence in your nostrils, as she is too powerful, and you can’t distinguish her dreams.

She is a confident woman now and makes things happen wherever she steps, at home, workplace, or her social life. She is still the woman with a little grease under her fingernails on her perfectly pedicured nails, she is not afraid of the dirt. She is down to making her world a better place, at whatever cost.

"Give the girl the right shoes and she will conquer the world."

We celebrate these women this month.

Meet Our Members | Florence Katiwa

“We’ve now gotten multiple avenues to be able to advance, so it can get nothing but better” [CLICK TO TWEET]

Z: Please tell us a little about yourself and your family -- where did you grow up, do you have brothers/sisters, how many children do you have now...

F: I was born and raised in Machakos in a house of 2 kids from my immediate parents. My father later remarried, and had 6 other kids, bringing the total to 8 kids. I also schooled in Machakos. I got married in Shinda Hills. Eventually my husband wanted his own land, and bought land in Marungu. We then moved and have lived here ever since. I have four kids.


Z: What is your most memorable experience as a child?

F: When we were kids, we were playing outside in a compound that was made up of homes with grass thatched roofs. While we were playing, we decided to play around with fire. One of the kids threw the stick upwards that had some fire, and it landed on the house that stored all our food, which of course went up in flames. When our parents returned, we were severely beaten, and I have never forgotten that.


Z: What has changed in your village/Kenya since you were a young girl?

F: Education. People did not place focus on education for female students. Not so much anymore.


Z: Now that you are a grown woman, what is the one thing that you are most proud of?

F: I a proud of having being married and having a homestead to call my own, and that I am able to manage my homestead. I go back home to my own place.


Z: What brings you joy?

F: The progress that Zawadisha brings us.


Z: What does the future look like for you, your family, and your community?

F: It will be easier and better than it has been. We’ve now gotten multiple avenues to be able to advance, so it can get nothing but better.


Z: What do you want other people to know about you, your family, and/or your community?

F: To know how much me and my life have changed due to joining a group.


Z: If you could change one thing in this world, what would it be?

F: If I could go back and be a child again, I would push myself through studying. I have learned too late about the importance of education.

The Challenge

Water tanks being delivered to the Neema Women's Group in Maungu, Kenya.

Water tanks being delivered to the Neema Women's Group in Maungu, Kenya.

Women bear the brunt of Africa’s infrastructure deficit. While both men and women are affected by poor infrastructure, the lack of local infrastructure—particularly power and water—creates a significant burden for women. In Kenya, the majority of people—73%—live in rural areas that lack infrastructure. Of the 44 million people living in Kenya, 75% light their homes using kerosene lamps. They are dim, expensive, create poor indoor air quality, and cause fires.

Approximately 80% of households depend on biomass fuels such as wood and charcoal for their cooking, and 39% lack access to safe water.  Women, as the primary caregivers in the home, are the ones responsible for collecting water, finding fuel wood, cooking on sub-par stoves, and working by toxic kerosene lamps. Women spend long hours each day collecting fuel wood, and as they cook with it, extreme health hazards result from premature death to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; more than 15,000 people a year die from Household Air Pollution (HAP), and approximately 81% of the population has health-related issues. Without electricity, household tasks become more laborious.

And finally, collecting water is another heavy burden for women who can spend up to 20 hours per week collecting water; this represents two full months of labor lost.

As a result, women face a double workday—50% longer than men’s—that makes them chronically time-poor. They are forced to make difficult decisions around seeking healthcare, earning an income, or attending to their and their children’s education. Despite the innovations in clean energy and water, the cost is prohibitive for the rural families; nearly 70% of all Africans cannot afford the $12 - $18 price point for a basic solar lamp. Most organizations in the clean energy and water space struggle to include communities within their supply chains, a necessary component for success within this segment.

To compound the issue, only 7.6% have access to financial services, making solar lamps, rain water tanks, and clean cook stoves out of reach for most people. Traditional micro-finance institutions are not equipped to deal with these issues or this population. They struggle in rural areas because of minimal community engagement, low trust, and high fees. Therefore, communities continue to be often left out and marginalized.

Zawadisha addresses these issues by providing in-house credit, direct delivery to villages, after-sales service, and training.

Strengthening Leadership

Seven of our group leaders came together in August 2014 to participate in a three-day leadership retreat focusing on appreciate inquiry. Together, we co-created the vision of Zawadisha for 2015 and beyond.  

Seven of our group leaders came together in August 2014 to participate in a three-day leadership retreat focusing on appreciate inquiry. Together, we co-created the vision of Zawadisha for 2015 and beyond.  

At Zawadisha, we don't believe in teaching leadership. We believe in living it and practicing it. Many of the women we work with have already been recognized for their leadership abilities by being appointed the chairladies of their savings groups, for example. What they lack are additional opportunities to practice their skills, and we aim to change that. 

One way we do this is by supporting our leaders to develop different guidelines around how loans are repaid (as a group or individually), account for payments, structure their monthly meetings (a common practice with savings groups and a requirement for participation in Zawadisha), and manage those who are struggling to repay. We also involve the leaders of our groups as decision-makers in our organization. Through facilitated mentorship and exploring shared experiences, our leaders work together to develop our organizational policies and advise us on the most pressing needs of the women they work with.  

Finally, women who have been selected for their achievement in their communities are invited to participate in annual retreats, exploring topics such as appreciate inquiry, resilience thinking, and organizational leadership. These workshops build on existing leadership skills and create meaningful engagement in Zawadisha. 

We believe that Africa is rich with leaders. It's not our job to create them, but rather it is our duty to involve them in every aspect of our work, and we have found tremendous success in doing so.