DB: So, what changed that you came to realize that land was such a significant, all-encompassing issue?
Winny: That came when I was doing my Master’s Program on gender studies. And I had to do my thesis on the socio-cultural factors influencing women’s access to the tea bonus. These are the benefits you accrue from tea, and are allocated to farmers twice in a year.
I was still figuring out what to write about or what to research about. And I had to ask my mother, because they are also tea farmers: ‘Normally when you get the bonus do you feel you have any decision over it?’ And she said, ‘No, you know unconsciously – you know tea bonuses go to your father’s account because the title deed is in his name and so you don’t get to…women don’t even get to have any information if the tea bonus is in.’
She was giving me an example: ‘You know, look in our village. It’s the women that spend almost six hours in the tea farm, plucking the tea, making sure there are no weeds and so forth.’ And I thought, ‘OK, this is interesting.’
DB: So, did you actually do the research on the tea bonus?
Winny: Yes, I did.
DB: And what did you find out?
Winny: I found out that women have no decision over the tea bonus. Women have no representation at all in the tea boards – in Kenya we have the tea boards, we have the tea directorate at the local level. Women hardly get representation. One – because of the voting based on the registration system.
So interestingly the voting system is based on registration of the tea farms. In most cases the title deeds are under the husband’s name, and those are the ones that appear for the meetings. For the female headed households though, I found there was this scenario where the female headed households, yes, they represent themselves in those meetings, but their voices are always suppressed because they are the minority. The men are the majority. And so that trickles down and influences the constitution of the governance structures.
The other issue is education: women hardly even know about the bonus, you know? Of course, they know, ‘A kilo will cost this,’ but they don’t know, ‘If I own seven acres of tea, how much of a bonus could I get? When is it disbursed? Who disburses it? How is the marketing done, how is the auctioneering done?’
And there’s an issue of ownership of land.
One of the focus group discussions was that there was a woman that was in a polygamous setup. And they found that the husband had almost twenty acres of tea. And she asked for her share so that she can take care of her children. And the husband was gracious enough and gave her a share but still it was on the condition that the husband still manages it for her. So, in terms of bonus, in terms of representation in quarterly meetings, the husband still attends on her behalf. Women hardly get absolute ownership and decision making over it.
DB: I’m wondering what are some of the other obstacles that women tend to face when it comes to land?
Winny: It depends on the context. We have a society in Kenya who are matriarchal in nature, and for them the issues of ownership of land, it’s not their problem. They actually get full access, ownership, inheritance and decision making over land equally as either siblings or spouses. Their problem would be the extension services, the markets for their produce and the business environment.
Then I thought, ‘If we are designing interventions as not-for-profit, there is a need to be in touch with the reality in different contexts as well.’ I also realized we have been working on these issues for quite some time, probably from an assumptive point of view. We do not document the real experiences from the ground that would then inform the designing or baseline surveys for project designing and so forth. There is a need to do more.