Attendance at the first financial planning workshop for Farming Savings members was 185! 186, if you count the cow that wandered inside during the workshop at Sirori Simba. Apparently, this is a good omen in Kuria. I was excited about the attendance. My field officers were excited about the cow.

As I mentioned in my last video update, this was an important training for us. By helping members plan expenses, we hope they will be able to save enough money next season to buy inputs rather than take out a loan. This will prevent dependence on Nuru’s farm input loans and is a crucial link to the Community Economic Development program.

More subtly, we broached an important but sensitive issue – women’s empowerment. As part of our promotion effort, I printed personalized letters asking members to bring their spouse for a family financial planning workshop. When my field managers saw the letter, they laughed. Not amused, I asked if they thought members would not bring their spouses. They paused then said, well you can try.

Members in the Farmer Savings are men and women, but my field managers’ comments were directed toward the idea of men bringing their wives to make the family’s budget together. In Kuria, men make the financial decisions. That is not to say that is always the case, but it’s the overwhelming trend. Women have very little power to control economic resources, even though for the most part they shoulder the burden of managing the home and caring for the children, on top of working on the family’s farm with their husbands. Many women who come to Nyametaburo Health Clinic cannot pay for services at the recently opened laboratory, because their husbands allotted them the Ksh.40 cost share for a trip to the clinic, but nothing additional to cover follow up services like the lab. My field officers have been approached with many complaints from women farmers enrolled in Nuru’s agricultural program. Although they are registered as a Nuru farmer, attend the trainings and work the land just as their husbands do, come harvest time their husbands give them enough maize to cover loan repayment and the women never see the benefits of their hard work. I asked my field officers, what if a husband chooses to drink away half the income from a harvest, leaving his children without enough money to pay for schooling and medical expenses? That happens a lot, they responded, the wife – she can just cry. She can’t say anything.

For me, it’s hard to calmly respond to situations like this. My tendency is to want to charge into work waving my Strong Woman banner and see some radical change. Quieter, gradual change seems inadequate. I came to the uncomfortable realization that although I say that I just want women and men to have the same opportunities and rights, I often come across as wanting vengeance for the past. As satisfying as that seems, it isn’t the way to truly achieve change. Instead of change, it creates a cycle.

Until now, Nuru has facilitated empowerment through equality. We don’t have a formal policy for the promotion of women leaders because we fear it would be a disservice to our leaders, male and female. There should be no doubt that they have achieved their positions based on anything other than merit. As it stands, Nuru provides unprecedented opportunity for women to rise to positions of leadership. And there is, of course, a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect or harassment of Nuru women members or staff. But what about the women who don’t make it onto our radar? Outside the safety zone of Nuru, there are disturbing issues. Violence, abuse, marginalization, and a lot of other issues I can’t even begin to cover. But pushing social change as a foreigner is controversial. I don’t know exactly what comes next; the main reason I’m writing is to seek input. Should Nuru take a stronger stance on women’s empowerment? Or could a formal campaign actually undermine some of our progress?

With the workshop this week we started our first effort towards women’s financial inclusion. It’s a small step, especially compared against huge issues like female circumcision, bride prices, and lack of property rights. But it’s still an important step. There was equal attendance of the training by women and men, which is encouraging, considering the ratio of men to women currently enrolled in Farmer Savings is 2:1. My field officers, men and women, have taken up the issue on their own and are actively brainstorming ways to increase equal participation in family financial decisions. I’m looking forward to working on what they come up with.