Posts

What You Need to Know About the Masai Village HIV:AIDS CrisisHIV/AIDS affects the majority of African countries. Masai villages are located in Kenya, where approximately one in five adults is currently infected with HIV/AIDS. The Masai Village HIV/AIDS crisis continues to affect many, and, as a result, humanitarian organizations are working to alleviate the increasingly high infection rates.

What Does the Masai Village HIV/AIDS Crisis Look like?

HIV/AIDS infection rates are increasingly high and treatment rates are increasingly low. Of the affected 38 African countries, Kenya, the home of Masai villages, is the fifth most affected country in the world. Masai culture is greatly patriarchal, traditional and resistant toward common health practices. Marriage practices, a fundamental aspect of the Masai culture, gravely impact the Masai village members’ health. Prior to marital relationships, most girls will have sexual relations with young warriors and such relations will continue after the girls are properly married. Immediately after reaching puberty, girls are married to older men with the goal of preventing childbirth out of wedlock.

Even after marriage, most women fear seeking testing or treatment, as husbands will abandon their wives if they are infected with HIV/AIDS. Because men provide financial support, housing and food, women, understandably, do not seek appropriate treatment.

In Kenya, more than 30% of newborns are infected with HIV/AIDS and approximately half of those children die before they are 2 years old. The alarmingly high death rate is largely due to the fact that both the babies and their mothers do not seek proper diagnoses, let alone treatment. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) found that since the onset of the global HIV/AIDS crisis in 1981, 17 million children lost at least one parent from HIV/AIDS. Of those 17 million children, 91% live in Sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya.

Obstacles in Alleviating HIV/AIDS Rates

According to Doctors Without Borders, a fundamental obstacle posed by the Masai Village HIV/AIDS crisis is the unavailability of health clinics. Because Masai villages are independent of the country’s government rule, little progress can be made from African or Kenyan government forces. Masai villages are primarily controlled by a Laibon, a de facto leader of the village, who makes decisions regarding marriages, cattle, spiritual practices and health. Laibons primarily practice alternative medicine, leaving the communities with no access to HIV/AIDS treatment.

Even if there is a clinic close by, they are unlikely to have treatment. In addition to stigmas around testing, clinics do not have the antiretroviral treatments that are available in the United States. In implementing antiretroviral treatments within the United States, mortality rates have been reduced by more than 80%. But, such treatments can cost more than $9,000, which Masai village members and clinics cannot afford. Furthermore, there are numerous legal barriers preventing the production and importation of antiretroviral treatment to Kenya, specifically the rural areas of the Masai villages.

Progress for the Masai Village HIV/AIDS Crisis

The Masai village HIV/AIDS crisis has extreme implications. HIV/AIDS most commonly affects the younger, more sexually-active members of the village. Because the younger population is more physically able to partake in laborious work, the strenuous tasks that keep the villages operating cannot be completed if they are sick. Therefore, high infection rates lead to a decrease in social contribution. Without the help of younger Masai members, the villages become vulnerable to instability. For both health reasons and the function of their villages, Masai members will not be able to survive if Kenya’s infection rate remains above 4%.

Because limited progress can be made from within the Masai villages, many global aid organizations such as Adapt-A-Doctor and Kenya AIDS Intervention are paying physicians to practice in struggling countries. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders is increasing their time in hotspot countries, such as Kenya, where they provide free counseling and testing to Masai village members.

Through the efforts of external organizations and health associations, awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Masai villages is increasing. The help of such organizations in collaboration with Masai villages will lead its members to live healthier, safer and longer lives.

– Maya Sulkin

Photo: Flickr

Deworming PillsThis July, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published data from a longitudinal research study that looked at how deworming Kenyan children affected their economic outcomes. Youths took deworming medication under professional supervision and were revisited 20 years later by researchers. Economists used these findings to estimate the impact of deworming pills. They find an enormous effect: taking deworming pills during childhood boosts household income by as much as 13% in adulthood.

NBER Research

Deworming has a positive effect on children’s education; reducing absenteeism and dropping out of school. However, this study finds that in addition to, and perhaps as a result of improved education, deworming increases the likelihood of working in nonagricultural jobs with higher incomes. If students are healthier from a younger age and succeed in school, they have a higher chance of bettering their futures. However, it must be noted that the study only found this future income boost applied to men, suggesting that although deworming medicine increases better education, it does not improve economic mobility for women. Further research is necessary to study this gender gap and its causes.

Further Research

The World Health Organization (WHO) and The World Bank have been funding the distribution of deworming pills in Africa for many years now. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are high infection rates of intestinal worms, especially among school-age children. Worms stunt children’s development and affect their ability to function. Deworming kids is inexpensive, and it results in healthier individuals and communities. Additionally, when previous generations are treated, the current generations are shown to reap the benefits. With deworming programs having such clear positive results, many organizations such as the WHO support and supply school-based deworming in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as other developing countries.

Deworming pills cost less than a dollar per child treated, so the return on deworming programs is enormous. For instance, the NBER study predicts a 37% return on deworming investments. However, these researchers acknowledge that there is a low chance this effect is statistically significant. In other words, they may have vastly overstated the effect of deworming pills on future outcomes.

Deworm the World

Hassenfeld is the co-founder of GiveWell, a nonprofit dedicated to finding and rating giving opportunities for donors. GiveWell backs an initiative called “Deworm the World,” which they consider a “priority program” because of how cheap deworming is and how beneficial the outcome may be. GiveWell also hires and trains monitors to attend schools, conduct training sessions, and implement distributions of deworming pills to students to ensure program efficiency.

Deworm the World spent $2.2 million more dollars in 2018 on deworming than in 2017. However, the company is continually seeking funding because they hope to expand its programs in Kenya, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Concluding Thoughts

This study suggests that deworming may strengthen entire communities over time, raising people out of poverty and improving their countries’ GDP. One study cannot completely explain the financial impact of deworming; however, it is clear that further research is needed and that children’s lives are being changed for the better. Previous research has shown that supporting healthcare systems and eradicating illnesses in developing countries leads to their growth and success. Similarly, deworming programs may play a big role in alleviating poverty in countries affected by intestinal worms.

– Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

3 Ways Kenya Has Worked to Drop Its Poverty RatesMany countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have found the majority of their populations living below the poverty line. With a lot of work being done to eliminate poverty in these countries, there have been dramatic changes in the lifestyle and the overall economies of many regions. The most notable changes have come from Kenya, showing some great economic advances between the years 2005 and 2015. Taking a look at the numbers, in 2005, 43.6% of Kenya’s population was living below the poverty line, earning less than $1.09 per day. Then, 10 years later, in the year 2015, Kenyans saw a dramatic change in their economy, dropping its poverty rate to 35.6%, and proving a continuous downward trend. Kenya’s significant socioeconomic improvement has prompted many to look closely at how Kenya has worked to drop its poverty rates. Here are three ways that Kenya was able to drop its poverty rates.

Education

By improving the education system and focusing on its younger population, Kenya is creating opportunities for the youth, and as a result the country, to prosper. Through the use of newer classroom technology and better resources, it has become evident that Kenyan youth are coming into the world more prepared to work and increase economic growth.

By giving younger people the opportunity to build their knowledge around things they love, Kenya is dropping its poverty rate. Because the economy grows from the increase in educated people, poverty decreases as a result.

Reducing Poverty in Rural Areas

Rural regions in Kenya face the highest poverty rates. As such, in order to address the issue at hand, more economic progress was offered in more rural areas. As written in the World Bank Blog by Utz Pape and Carolina Mejia-mantilla, “this was possible because of the increasing importance of non-agricultural income (particularly commerce) to supplement agricultural income for rural households, which has been aided by the expansion of mobile money and the telecommunication revolution.” This explains one of the ways economic growth was offered in Kenya’s rural areas.

Construction and Infrastructure

Building up communities has become one of Kenya’s main methods of alleviating poverty. Partaking in construction and building infrastructure has become one of the most booming businesses in the country, overall helping the economy and allowing for newer and safer residential areas to be built all around the country. According to the Privacy Shield, the construction industry has helped Kenya tremendously in creating jobs and a safer living environment. Along with that, Kenya has been able to strike up deals with outside countries, including the United States, thanks to the progress made within the construction industry. As a result of the attention on its booming industry, Kenya has been able to drop its poverty rates.

Although Kenya is making great advancements in alleviating poverty, there is still much to be done. To completely eradicate poverty in Kenya and support the country’s efforts to drop its poverty rates, the international community and humanitarian organizations must continue to donate and support Kenya’s poverty alleviation efforts. One of the ways the international community can help is by volunteering. Through the Overseas Program, one can volunteer and take a trip to Kenya to help push forward more advancements toward a less impoverished future for the country.

Sophia Cloonan 
Photo: Flickr

Female Health Care in KenyaPoverty affects genders differently, with women often being more disadvantaged than men. Meeting the strategic needs of those living in poverty must be accompanied by fulfilling practical gender needs. This will ensure equal access to economic progress for all. One NGO is working to fight gender discrimination by providing female health care in Kenya.

Girls in Danger

In the wake of COVID-19, mass closures of schools and businesses have further hindered the economic development of remote Kenyan districts. The strict COVID-19 guidelines implemented by local authorities have resulted in the closing of safe homes and centers for girls. The preoccupation with COVID-19 regulations led authorities to produce minimal effort to stop the violence against women and girls. On top of the pandemic, the country has fallen victim to other disasters. Extreme droughts and flooding, as well as a locust invasion, have lowered the food supply for rural areas.

These desperate circumstances have left low-income families with limited financial options. Some families have resorted to employing their young children and marrying off their daughters in exchange for money and cattle. This incites increased gender-based violence as child marriages leave girls vulnerable to sexual and physical violence.

Dr. Esho, who works on-site for Amref Health, said, “Including community systems in the prevention of and response to FGM/C (female genital mutilation and cutting) and child marriage is more important than ever. More women and girls are now at risk of harmful practices and gender-based violence.”

Centering Women in Health Care

Amref Health Africa is an NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya. It has been a crucial part of introducing health care services and technology to Sub-Saharan Africa. Established in 1957, the organization has a long history of bringing modern medicine to rural African communities.

Amref Health Africa is proving how female empowerment isn’t a silly social movement but a crucial factor in women’s livelihoods. The NGO dedicates much of its work to improving female health care in Kenya. Women often lack education on their sexual health, which impedes prudent, informed decisions regarding their futures. Advancements in female health care in Kenya can empower women to take control of their bodies and pregnancies. Additionally, it can offer better support to these women in their chosen paths.

Amref also aids women suffering from violence. Organization members, such as Dr. Esho, work jointly with local activists and health workers to construct a plan of action. The community members have firsthand knowledge and experience working with survivors of FGM/C and other cruelties, which Amref acknowledges and utilizes. Therefore, the NGO ensures victims are getting proper care and refuge from their abusive situations.

What We Can Do

Amref strives to bring awareness to gender-based violence and the positive effect of proper female health care in Kenya. With the hashtag #EndFGM, Amref is trying to engage international activists through social media. The organization is also accepting direct donations through its website.

One may feel powerless during times of international emergencies. However, that must not stop everyone from doing their part. Those who want to help can contact their congressmen and congresswomen as well as other representatives to protect the U.S.’s foreign aid budget. This will benefit NGOs, similar to Amref Health, that work closely with poor communities to identify unique problems and solutions.

Lizt Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Use of Chemical Pesticides
Despite their effectiveness in killing specific pests, historic incidents and unknowns related to chemical pesticides have led to public health concerns. Fears that people could be at risk if they consume food treated with chemical pesticides do have a foundation. Pesticides have been found to partially cause neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, among other maladies. Chemical pesticides cannot choose which organisms they kill, which can lead to raised ecosystem contamination and toxicity. Not all chemical pesticides directly harm humans. However, evidence of those that do, along with evidence for unintended ecological damage, led to efforts to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

Neem as an Alternative

One of the most concerning side-effects of the use of chemical pesticides is their effect on bee populations. Bees are vital to crop pollination and indirectly help create much of the food that humans eat. Pesticide use is a primary cause of the current decline in beehive populations. American and European beekeepers report this is at around 30% per year.  Bee population decline contributes to food scarcity and poverty. When food becomes more scarce, prices rise and more people go hungry. Current conditions necessitate implementing an alternative to chemical pesticides that is safe for humans, certain insects and plants.

New research points to naturally derived pesticides as possibly safer and less damaging to the environment. Currently, the most promising natural solution is neem oil. Neem oil is an organic, naturally-derived substance from the Neem tree. The tree grows primarily in tropical regions. These areas tend to be most affected by insect infestations and represent some of the poorest areas in the world.

Neem oil use is not a new phenomenon. Traditional Indian farming methods practiced for thousands of years, and even folk medicines incorporate neem usage. It is effective at reducing specific insect populations while having minimal noted negative effects on beneficial insects like bees and worms. A number of agricultural companies have begun using neem in their products, and its use is only expected to grow as its efficacy is increasingly verified.

Outbreak and Application in Africa

In early 2020, East Africa faced its worst locust outbreak in decades. Swarms devoured hundreds of thousands of acres, fostering hunger and fear in local communities. Millions of people became more food insecure and the use of chemical pesticides became less viable. The COVID-19 pandemic upset the global chemical supply chain, which seems to have inhibited governments from receiving the large quantities of pesticides needed to make an impact against the locust invasion.

In response, some farmers in Kenya began making their own neem oil to push back against locust invasions. Neem oil can weaken locusts’ reproductive ability and potentially kill them, which reduces the current and future populations. While it was too late to make a big impact against the swarms, individual farmers protected their crops. If enough farmers learn to make their own oil in the future, or if it is produced cheaply on a large scale, Kenya could have an effective, safe defense against locust invasions. Other countries in the region also afflicted by locust swarms stand to benefit from looking to Kenya as an example.

Potential for Future Practices

Chemical pesticide use is harmful to the environment and can create bad health outcomes for some people. Industrial use of neem oil instead of chemical pesticides could improve health conditions worldwide and protect ecosystems. On a smaller scale, it could protect the economic interests of poor farmers and people at risk of starvation. People may also be more accepting of the use of growable, natural pesticides over the use of chemical ones. Locally-made neem oil also mitigates environmental pollution. This puts more power into the hands of individual farmers. Though natural pesticide solutions require more research, they represent critical development in the future of agricultural pesticides.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Unsplash

fighting poverty with booksOxfam, an organization based out of Kenya, is fighting global poverty with books. How does that work, exactly? All over the world, second-hand Oxfam bookstores have popped up, sparking interest in the cause.

Oxfam: Alleviating Global Poverty

Oxfam provides support to people worldwide who suffer from disasters and poverty and works to build lasting solutions to these problems. Through “challenging the powerful,” Oxfam aims to hold those in power accountable for their actions in order to promote sustainable change. Oxfam challenges those in power by allowing disadvantaged groups’ voices to be heard, pressuring policy change and starting discussions with those in power to advocate for those in poverty. Throughout their 70 years of existence, the lives changed through Oxfam are widespread.

Nearly one out of every three people live in poverty. The organization believes that the global community can alleviate global poverty by confronting the injustices in the world. In doing this, Oxfam provides a voice for those who often go unheard in their daily lives.

While working in 90 countries, Oxfam alone has changed the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Many different strategies are used, such as supporting NGOs on the ground aiding communities in need, donating funds and resources to humanitarian organizations and pursuing legal action for those in need. But perhaps the most interesting is the use of fighting global poverty with books.

The Oxfam Bookstore: Fighting Poverty With Books

A popular place for local bookstores to emerge is in Great Britain. Walking through Oxford, near the pub C.S. Lewis frequented, is an Oxfam bookstore. The books within are donated to the organization and dispersed to their many locations. In selling these books to raise money, Oxfam is able to further fund their multi-faceted poverty-fighting agenda.

In these bookstores, it is easy to find books from all genres. A typical look through the stores features books from popular Young Adult fiction to antiquated books that are no longer in circulation. If a large bookseller hears about Oxfam, it is quite common for newly printed copies to be put on the shelves, as well.

If there is not an Oxfam bookstore location near you, it is now possible to shop their selection online. To promote the organization’s values, it is essential for them to collect as many books as possible to boost sales. When looking online, it is easy to find the genres, and even has a highlighted section to promote antiquarian, signed and valuable books.

To be more specific, volunteers to run both Oxfam thrift stores and book shops around the world. The funds raised are then dispersed to their various home bases. Through these bookstores’ contributions and by providing an accessible platform for people to donate and contribute to valuable causes, Oxfam furthers the global fight against poverty.

Fighting Poverty One Book at a Time

For book lovers who want to change the world, Oxfam bookstores are a great way to help out those in need, while finding the newest story to delve into. From just a quick search, first edition novels such as Ross Poldark, Will Grayson and The Screwtape Letters can be found in these volunteer-led bookstores. Prices vary depending on the quality and rarity of these works, but it is clear that fighting global poverty with books is a great way to benefit both those in need and your own book cravings.

By fighting global poverty with books, Oxfam encourages widespread education that can be available to everyone, without having to explicitly say it. Confronting those in power to be held accountable for the change they can provide in relieving global poverty can be done through the simple transaction of a book from a small shop.

– Natalie Belford
Photo: Pexels

Mental Health in KenyaIt is estimated that 11.5 million, or one in every four Kenyans, have experienced mental illness. Common mental health issues in Kenya include disorders due to substance abuse, neurotic and personality disorders, as well as dementia. However, the country has limited resources for those struggling with mental health issues. As of 2015, there were only around 12 neurologists and 100 psychiatrists in Kenya. Furthermore, mental health-related stigma decreases the accessibility of care since it can lead to discrimination. Greater awareness of mental health issues as well as providing more resources for those suffering from mental illnesses and disorders can aid in increasing the quality of life of those struggling with mental health issues in Kenya.

Mental Health Care Project

In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders and Board on Global Health created a demonstration project with the goal of improving the state of mental health in Kenya. The project focused on mental, neurological and substance use (MNS) disorders in Kenya, specifically alcohol abuse, depression and epilepsy because of the high burden of these conditions. The project addresses the limitations of Kenya’s healthcare infrastructure, lack of availability of medication and data in regard to MNS disorders. Additionally, the project emphasizes the potential benefits of incorporating traditional and faith healers (TFHs) into the Kenyan healthcare system. Kenyans who struggle with mental illness often rely on TFHs for care because of their wide accessibility. Because TFHs are viewed with acceptance among communities, the project encourages the collaboration between TFHs and healthcare practitioners.

Mental Health Stigma

Kenyans living with mental disorders often experience stigma on multiple levels. Stereotypes surrounding those with mental illnesses lead to public stigma, especially since many people associate mental illnesses with evil. Furthermore, those struggling with mental disorders may internalize others’ negative perceptions of them, impacting how they view themselves and their overall quality of life since it can lead to loneliness and isolation. Stigma is a factor preventing Kenyans from receiving efficient treatment. Therefore, greater public education on mental disorders and providing more resources for treatment can improve the lives of those living with mental disorders in Kenya. A better understanding of mental health in Kenya will aid in the destigmatizing of mental disorders, leading to effective treatment.

Kenya’s  Mental Health Response

In 2005, in collaboration with WHO, Kenya created a program to implement mental health into the country’s healthcare system. This was done by training healthcare staff across the country. The outcome of the project proved the possibility of educating healthcare workers through courses in mental health.

Furthermore, in 2014, Kenya presented the Mental Health Bill, which proposed providing resources for those with mental illnesses, including treatment, care and rehabilitation. The law has yet to be enacted. If implemented, the legislation aims to address the inequality in mental healthcare and to ensure greater accessibility of mental health services in Kenya.

Despite the strides taken by the Kenyan Government to address mental health, it is necessary to further these efforts in order to improve the overall healthcare system. Greater awareness of mental illnesses and how they can be treated is imperative to advance mental healthcare in Kenya.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr

GiveDirectly’s cash transfer projectIn March 2020, GiveDirectly launched The Kenya Emergency Cash Fund to protect vulnerable Kenyan communities by sending recipients cash through mobile wallets. GiveDirectly is a nonprofit organization operating in East Africa that works to alleviate extreme poverty. Since its founding in 2009, GiveDirectly has given over $160 million to 170,000 families in the region, eventually earning a 100% rating from Charity Navigator. GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project is an initiative to help low-income Kenyans, especially during COVID-19.

Kenya Emergency Cash Fund

The Kenya Emergency Cash Fund, also known as the Kenya COVID-19 Fund, was formed in partnership with the Shikilia Initiative, which is a collaboration between the Kenyan private sector and nonprofit organizations. In coordination with GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project, Shikilia’s goal during the pandemic is to provide 200,000 people with monthly transfers of $30 for the next three months.

“We currently have enrolled 11,000 adults into the program and have disbursed around $300 to these recipients,” Director of Recipient Advocacy, Caroline Teti, told The Borgen Project. Teti joined GiveDirectly in 2016. She hopes to put an end to the devastating and disempowering nature of poverty across Africa through innovative projects such as GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project.

GiveDirectly has already launched settlements in Mathare, Kibera, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kawangware. This is crucial since resident families of these settlements live on $2 or less and are therefore expected to take the hardest economic hit as a result of the pandemic. For example, Teti reported that as a result of COVID-19, 95% of people in Mathare are eating less.

Recipients barely had savings before the pandemic. So, without GiveDirectly’s cash transfers made available to low-income communities by the Emergency Cash Fund, Teti believes that “families would have snuck back to the villages, increasing transmission risks to older people living in the countryside.”

Making Cash Transfers Efficient

In order to ensure that these cash transfers made to recipients are efficient, GiveDirectly is partnering with Shining Hope for Communities, a grassroots movement that catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums in Kenya.

Methods GiveDirectly and SHOFCO use to reach recipients more rapidly include using existing databases of low-income households, using rosters provided by local vetted NGO partners and using rosters of mobile money subscribers recruited through partner mobile network operators.

Project 100

Though GiveDirectly’s priority is getting cash to hard-hit families in extreme poverty in Kenya, it also organized Project 100 to raise funds for U.S. families impacted by COVID-19. For this project, GiveDirectly partnered with Propel, a company that helps recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program manage their benefits. The project aims to raise a total of $100 million for recipients.

The Road Ahead

According to the World Bank, poverty in Kenya may still remain above 20% by 2030 if it continues on a minimal growth path. More job opportunities for youth and infrastructure investments that improve transportation and service deliveries would be necessary to raise Kenya’s productivity.

Through GiveDirectly’s cash transfer project, an efficient and simple method of delivering cash, small-scale businesses will have the opportunity to grow, especially when food insecurity is no longer an obstacle. As Teti says, “We must rethink recipient empowerment and consider cash as a model for changing the lives of people living in poverty.”

– Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

Exploring the Land Rights for Women in KenyaThe Kenyan Constitution states that men and women are equal under the law. Despite the new legislation, women in Kenya are still discriminated against for exercising their right to own land with their name on it rather than their husbands’ name.

Women’s Land Rights in Kenya

Property and land rights for women recently expanded in Kenya, particularly for married women—a group that was denied land ownership in the past. Passed in 2013, the Matrimonial Property Act states that marriage between a man and a woman rests on a foundation of equality. It recognizes spouses as equal property owners and protects women’s rights to land ownership during marriage, divorce and separation.

The Act follows the repeal of previous gender-discriminatory laws, anointing a new progressive path for the country. Before the Act’s enactment, Kenya’s government enforced the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, a piece of legislation leftover from the era of British colonization, explained Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) Faith Alubbe. KLA is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that advocates for equal land access in Kenya.

“For women, land ownership is very important for them to be able to feed their families, for them to be able to access or use land and to control it,” said Alubbe. “As it is right now, most women only access and use land. They rarely control and own it.”

Today, nearly a decade after the Act’s passage, only 10.3% of Kenyan women own land title deeds, according to statistics from KLA. Even with the implementation of this new law, varied customs and traditions that bar women from land ownership exist throughout Kenya’s 47 counties. Without complete and clear access to land titles, the disproportionate impact of homelessness and poverty on Kenyan women could exacerbate further.

Land Advocacy for Kenyan Women

“How come women work on land a lot, use the resources, but they never own or control it?” This was the question Alubbe asked herself that propelled her deeper into land advocacy. Alubbe’s work in human rights and land justice in Kenya stretches back to 2006 when she worked for the Kenya Human Rights Commission, an NGO that promotes democratic change, and for the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-K), an NGO that extends free legal representation to women in Kenya.

From KLA’s efforts partnered with its network of 50 organizations, Alubbe informs Kenyan communities about their rights and helps individuals secure proper land title documentation to actualize land justice in Kenya and throughout East Africa. While Alubbe worked for FIDA-K, she was a member of the team who pushed for the passage of the 2013 Matrimonial Property Act.

Despite the Act’s intentions of creating greater land equality, as noted in a report by the Human Rights Watch in coordination with FIDA-K, it falls short of total enforcement. The Act does not recognize couples who are unofficially married although many Kenyan couples are not legally registered in their counties, disbarring them from protection under the law.

Justice System vs. Patriarchal Custom

Alubbe also believes the act has only been partly successful. Women rarely exit the court system empty-handed, but getting couples to trial—an expensive and often lengthy process—stands in the way of land justice for women. The financial hardships of covering court fees and paying lawyers can be enough to stop a woman from trying her case in the court system.

“With the precedents that are coming out of court, [The Matrimonial Property Act] has not been as successful as we had hoped it to be because [of] gray areas and a lot of discretion,” said Alubbe.

These “gray areas” could pertain to patriarchal traditions, customary laws and alternative justice systems found in countries that govern Kenyan communities, explained Alubbe. Customary laws—laws that oftentimes discriminate against land ownership for women—control more than 65% of the land in Kenya, according to HRW.

Rather than turning to the justice system, married couples in rural areas undergoing divorce will instead meet with community elders and chiefs for an efficient and affordable alternative. But outside of court systems, customary laws that insist matrimonial property is not entitled to women prevail, potentially leaving women with only their personal belongings and no roof over their heads.

“Those at the community level prefer [alternative justice systems] because it’s accessible and affordable. Though it can be very patriarchal, and since it’s not very regulated, it might also defeat justice,” said Alubbe.

According to customary laws in the Kilifi and Kakamega Kenyan counties, land titles are attributed solely to a woman’s husband or owned by his family. Any acquisitions or improvements made to a couple’s property, regardless if they are made by the wife, do not belong to her. Although 96% of rural Kenyan women are responsible for farming, Oxfam reports, their contributions to the land are theirs only to sow not to reap for personal benefit.

If she can manage the costs, under the Matrimonial Property Act, she must also present proof of monetary or non-monetary contributions to her matrimonial property. But what is classified as substantial evidence is not clearly outlined under the law, explained HRW. Unpaid care work, labor women are predominantly responsible for, can make or break a woman’s case, but it is also dependent on the judge’s interpretation of proof.

Consequences of Patriarchal Land Ownership

Due to ambiguities in legislation and customs that trump a woman’s ownership of land, less than 2% of land in Kenya is owned by women. These gaps in land title enforcement fail to protect women’s rights, intensifying the number of women who face the threat of eviction and poverty.

Separated, divorced and widowed women risk losing their homes to their husbands or their husbands’ families under customary laws. The Kilifi and Kakamega counties, where men are the majority landowners, also possess two of the highest divorce and separation rates in Kenya.

When women in Kenya are disbarred from owning land, which is a significant generator for income, they are prevented from accessing other resources, including credit and agricultural crops. Alubbe added that without disposable income or secure credit, education for women’s children falls through the cracks and malnutrition becomes a stark reality for families.

“Because land is the primary factor of production in Kenya, without land, then the level of poverty is quite high for women,” said Alubbe.

Breaking down poverty by gender, Kenyan women are more likely to fall into poverty than men. For single, divorced and widowed women, this is especially true. Nearly 31% of divorced women fall into poverty, while 38% of widowers fall into poverty, according to the World Bank.

Looking Ahead

Women in Kenya depend on land they can call their own. Law says women finally can—a crucial acknowledgment of Kenyan women’s contributions to their communities. This issue of land ownership extends beyond Kenya’s borders, though. According to the World Bank, only 30% of the world’s population have land titles today. Throughout rural Sub-Saharan Africa, only 10% of the population have land titles.

Yet, Alubbe is personally working to expand access to land titles. This September, she was personally driving herself to Kenya’s counties to train community members and assist with land registration and land rights for women in Kenya. After stopping in Laikipia, she said registration was going well and her key focus is for women to be included in the registration process.

“We are very hopeful because more women are gaining more knowledge,” said Alubbe. “Women themselves are being more sensitized and aware that to be involved, we should own land.”

—Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

human milk banksBreastfeeding is the most effective way to maximize infant health and provide the best possible start in life for babies, showing that the common phrase ‘breast is best’ rings true. Not only is breast milk the ideal food for infants but it is also the number one way to ensure their health and survival. Human milk banks allow infants access to neccesary breast milk.

Why Breast is Best

Breast milk provides all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs during the first months of its life, including important antibodies that can help fight many deadly childhood diseases like acute respiratory infections and diarrhea. Additionally, the preparation of breast milk does not require access to clean water or sanitation (unlike formula) and is cost-free and widely accessible for parents. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued supplementation until 2 years of age. All the benefits of breastfeeding pay off as children who are breastfed have more than six times the chance at surviving than non-breastfed children. They often score higher on intelligence tests, maintain healthier weights and get sick less. In fact, successful breastfeeding of children aged 0-2 has the potential to prevent 13% of all childhood deaths under 5 years old in countries experiencing extreme poverty.

Trouble breastfeeding can be due to a wide range of problems, like cleft palate, low milk supply, trouble latching, malnutrition, disease or lack of support and counseling before, during and after pregnancy. In Kenya, 362 mothers die for every 100,000 live births, leaving many babies without easy access to breastmilk. When infants do not receive the nutrients they need, it is hard for them to survive and thrive.

Human Milk Banks

Human milk banks provide safe and lifesaving breast milk to babies who are unable to nurse from their own mothers. Generous donors provide the breast milk. The donors are screened, the donations are processed and pasteurized, and then, the lifesaving breast milk is redistributed to help babies in need. Children in this category include prematurely born infants, orphans or cases where a mother is unable to provide breast milk. This effective system makes sure that babies safely can get milk that will help them reach their potential. WHO recommends that in cases where babies are unable to nurse from their mothers, donor milk can be utilized, indicating that donated breast milk is safe and effective for babies who need it.

The Pumwani Maternity Hospital

The Technical Working Group decided on Pumwani Maternity Hospital as the first to provide Kenya with a breast milk bank. This hospital is innovative in terms of neonatal care, promoting skin-to-skin (Kangaroo Mother Care) contact, and providing breastfeeding education to parents. In Kenya, the rate of acceptance for breastfeeding is low. One concern with this project was whether mothers would consider breast milk donation an option. Luckily, researchers from PATH have reported that locals are warming up to the idea of the bank, which bodes well for the future of the program.

As of October 2019, the Pumwani Maternity Hospital reported delivering lifesaving breast milk from over 400 donors to 75 infants, a marked success. As a result, the Ministry of Health (MOH) included a recommendation for donated human breast milk to Kenya’s newborn care guidelines. Annually, donor milk has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve widespread access to breast milk for all infants, Pumwani Maternity Hospital is a great example of what can be accomplished with human breast milk banks.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr