Help us spread the word! #HerVoice
Pastoral women in Marsabit County, one of Kenya’s poorest, are in a desperate situation. They are increasingly heading households while being expected to contribute to household incomes, as men migrate to urban areas in search of work. However, by and large they lack the education and skills needed to successfully act as family breadwinners, because very few women have received any formal schooling. Illiteracy among women reaches 90%. Worse, they are forced to carve out their livelihoods against a backdrop of climate change. This means that they cannot rely on livestock to support their families as they did in the past.
Too many hours are spent walking further than ever to fetch water and firewood. Many families are forced to move to towns or resettle in displacement camps when their livestock die due to prolonged drought. Finally, while women are given more responsibility for the survival of their families, they suffer from persistently low levels of authority within their community, given they live in the context of traditionally male-dominated cultures.
The Her Voice initiative addresses severe gaps in basic education and practical information access for these women and female youth through appropriate technologies that are easy to use and foster community participation. Building on the power of community is the single most effective strategy to meet these multiple challenges. Her Voice leverages the traditional community structures that are already in place - women’s self-help groups and women’s savings clubs—by adding practical and educational components that are integral to women’s empowerment.
To reach these women’s groups, appropriate technology is key. Despite inroads made by cell phones across Africa, much of Marsabit County doesn’t even have cell phone signal. In nomadic communities, which are usually made up of between 60 and 75 families, there may one or two radios or two or three shared cell phones. Almost always, these are the property of men.
The long-trusted medium of radio remains the most important technology to local communities. Radio transcends geography, literacy, reaches groups in their own language without concern for airtime or data charges. For radio to meet its potential, however, several challenges must be overcome. First, electricity supplies are non-existent, and batteries are unaffordable to the poorest, and unavailable in remote areas. Marsabit County is less than two percent grid electrified. Second, radio ownership (and as a result, listenership) is currently very low amongst women, because men own radios and control listening access. Therefore, for this initiative to succeed, our aim is to get MP3-enabled radios into the hands of women, and ones that don’t require an external power supply.
Founded in 1999, Lifeline Energy is the pioneer in the wind-up energy space. Our solar and wind-up Lifeplayer MP3 is the first all-in-one MP3 player, radio and recorder created for humanitarian sector. It’s specifically designed for groups with low levels of exposure to technology, and offers an effective and cost-effective solution to the paucity of information found in poor and remote communities.
Her Voice will provide women’s groups with 24/7 access to pre-loaded audio on MicroSD cards in her own language—as well as FM/AM/SW radio via our fit-for-purpose Lifeplayers. Her Voice content partners include the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (literacy and numeracy), BBC Media Action (maternal and child health) and Farm Radio International (farming, livelihood creation, environment and entrepreneurship). Our main implementation partner is Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI), an award-winning local NGO based in Marsabit town that has deep links to these pastoral communities.
Armed with practical and relevant knowledge these women will be empowered to make better decisions, as opposed to relying on guesswork or hearsay. It will improve women’s ability to earn a livelihood, care for the family, their own health, and ultimately help to break down of the traditional barriers to her advancement and to mitigate the cycle of extreme poverty in their communities.
Our aim is to raise $12, 500 to provide Lifeplayer units to 150 women’s groups throughout Marsabit County. This includes production costs, shipping from Hong Kong, loading and translating of content and training and capacity building of women’s groups. Groups are located in towns and far-flung areas of the county. Each Lifeplayer will benefit at least 40 women directly and a further 100 people indirectly—impacting an estimated 21,000 Kenyans.