Is there room for her in the market place?

By Tabitha Marion

At the heart of origins and culture, steams out traditions held dearly by community members. Traditions that serve well to teach and instill virtues yes, and on the other hand, traditions that are a reproach to members of the community itself. Women in the land of Butula have walked and faced the daunting paths of vile traditions like wife inheritance that deprave them of the liberality to speak out their pain, mourn their beloved husbands and protect themselves and their children in the face of such traditions.

Millie, a mother of three children runs her own business in Kakamega town. She is a tailor and does crocheting of mats, shawls and sweaters for sale. Her business is booming in Kakamega town with customers walking in and out of her store. She is quite friendly with her customers as she serves them to her best. Nevertheless, behind her smiley face and friendly gesture, Millie holds a story of courage and resilience. From her escape from the tight jaws of traditions to her struggle to make ends meet for her and her children, she now proudly stands and takes ownership of what she has achieved over the years. To her, it is a landmark.

“I was married for 6 years before my husband passed on. We had three children and we were doing so well as a family. Josephat, my husband, was the sole breadwinner. He worked in Bungoma town and he worked so hard to provide and keep us well. When he passed just two days after his burial, elders in the community visited me to inform me about the inheritance process. I was told that I was to be given to his younger brother as his wife through some rituals. I tried refusing claiming that I could live by myself instead I was beaten up and told to keep quiet about the matter. As they were preparing the khuira (it is the process of inheritance), I prepared my three children for an escape. I could not condone to the idea of being inherited. I had seen how women who had been inherited lived demeaning lives. They begged from the families which inherited them, their children failed to be schooled and they were used as sex tools by their husbands just for pleasure. I ran away but I could not go back to my parents’ home, they followed those traditions as well. I hid in Bungoma working as a house help till, I got enough money to move to Kakamega. It was a struggle sometimes sleeping hungry or in the cold with my children but it was better compared to having to be inherited.

Now it has been like ten years of hard work and struggle to gain skills and be independent. I was housed in a rescue center and there I learned how to do crocheting and tailoring. We could do tasks from the rescue center and I saved to purchase my own tailoring machine. When I was stable enough, I left with my children and now we live on our own. At least now they have access to the basic needs they require. Life is better but the memory of my late husband is still there.

Starting this business was very hard considering that I was not familiar with this town and I also did not have the skills to run and manage it. The first two years I kept going back to the rescue center to ask for food aid and shelter. The management even tried convincing me to go back to the rescue center but I was firm on my decision to leave. I feared working alongside men because I viewed work in such places as a ‘men’s’ thing’. It was hard settling for prices with customers at some points. My worst experience is having to encounter men in business who want to use you and threaten you as well. In such moments, my mind drifts back my past life in Butula and the inheritance, it never leaves. Right now, I am a success not because of what I do but because of what I have become. As I work, I also purpose to open grounds for other women to learn. I teach crocheting and tailoring.

The difficulties I faced while grounding my business were financial constraints, the fear to start and marketing the business. Without finances a dream business is always a dream and never real. Saving money from chamas and the small jobs I did- washing people’s clothes and ploughing land- helped me in establishing this business.”

Millie made it in her own way in business and any other woman can. She walked the daunting paths of business and dared to be and do what she liked doing. What can you do? What do you have to offer? What do you want?

It is easier for women to venture into the market place in the current era with various organizations standing in support to aid them in this journey. A good example is Women in Business (WIB) founded and run by Mary Muthoni. This gives platform to women from all parts of the country to have access to mentorship and capacity building, networking, policy and advocacy, raising your business profile and exposure to financial inclusion and investment opportunities. Through this, women can be more included in the business world easily, it is just a matter of breaking out of the cocoon and showing up to what you can do best as a woman.

It may be WIB or any other organization that chips in to offer a hand to women to inspire inclusion. It is rightly said that it is no longer sufficient for us to look for allies in the business world. We have to become our own allies and that means women need to take the lead and conquer the kingdom of business. You dare say you can do it?

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