Kenya, located on the eastern coast of East Africa and the Indian Ocean, is a country with a population of 53 million. The capital city of Kenya is Nairobi, which has a population of 5.1 million and is one of the largest cities in Africa and a key metropolis in East Africa.
Our key publications
of Kenyan women (aged 18-49) have experienced sexual or physical violence.
of working-age Kenyan women are in the workforce.
of girls in Kisii and Nyamira have undergone female genital mutilation.
Kenya is the economic powerhouse of East Africa, and Nairobi is referred to as the region’s technology hub. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) has increased tenfold since the beginning of the 2000s, making Kenya the largest economy in East Africa.
Despite rapid economic growth, Kenya is classified as a low-income country with a highly unequal distribution of wealth. While the middle class has expanded, as of 2022, nearly 28% of the population, or a significant portion, still live below the poverty line in extreme poverty.
The majority of Kenya’s population still relies on agriculture for their livelihood. Although only 15% of the land is suitable for farming, the agricultural sector employs nearly 75% of the population. The main agricultural products for export include tea, coffee, maize, beans, and bananas. Half of the country’s produce is cultivated for household consumption. However, many Kenyans have transitioned from subsistence farming to wage employment or started small businesses outside the agricultural sector.
Human rights violations and corruption remain significant challenges in Kenya. In 2022, Kenya ranked 123rd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Journalists and human rights defenders investigating corruption and misconduct often face threats and dangerous situations, according to Frontline Defenders, a human rights organization. Amnesty International has highlighted the weak position of women and girls in Kenya and the violence they face as special challenges.
ISF operates in Kenya to end female genital mutilation and domestic violence, as well as to promote women’s work and livelihood. Our goal is to empower women in their communities by reducing violence and improving their economic well-being.
Women’s Rights Situation in Kenya
In Kenya, women’s status is weaker than that of men. Women are expected to remain silent in public spaces, while men and boys dominate the conversation. Women often lack power and experience in making decisions related to property ownership.
- Female genital mutilation is still common in Kenya, including in our project areas of Kisii and Nyamira, despite being illegal. The practice continues because it is believed to guarantee a girl’s marriageability and secure her future. In a society where women are economically dependent on their husbands, being rendered unmarriageable can be a disaster.
- Domestic violence is prevalent in Kenya, with 45% of Kenyan women aged 18-49 having experienced sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. The majority of perpetrators of violence are close to the victims.
- Impunity for violence is a significant problem, with only 5% of violence cases reaching the courts.
- There is a gender imbalance in wage employment, with twice as many men as women. Men and male descendants own the cultivated land and engage in wage labor, while women’s roles involve unpaid domestic work and taking care of the family.
- Women who become farmers have less land available to them compared to men. They often lack basic entrepreneurial skills and access to markets. Due to a lack of education, women farmers struggle to access information on more efficient and climate-resilient farming practices or product processing technologies.
As a result of these challenges, women farmers have low yields, significant annual crop variations, and their products do not meet the quality standards of larger buyers. Many women are left dreaming of independent livelihoods, making them economically dependent on men.
- Women have limited political decision-making power, which often leads to their underrepresentation in leadership positions. During political campaigns and elections in Kenya, female candidates face violence and often have to hire bodyguards to avoid sexual and other forms of violence.
How does ISF promote women’s livelihoods and employment in Kenya?
Opportunity for their own income is of paramount importance to women. Through their own income, women can decide their own future and live without the fear of violence caused by the scarcity of family livelihood and disputes over financial matters. Personal income reduces dependency on spouses and at the same time improves the overall family income and food security.
Promoting women’s livelihood is not only the first step in ending domestic violence but also improves the overall resilience of the entire family.
In our projects, we:
- Support cooperatives that assist women in sustainable farming practices, help them find marketplaces for their products, and provide a network of mutual support. These cooperatives consist of over 2,000 women.
- Pilot cultivation of oyster mushrooms. These mushrooms provide families with more diverse and protein-rich food while also allowing for improvements in the value chains of the products. Selling mushrooms generates significantly more income compared to regular cultivation.
- Focus on circular economy and sustainable farming. We are initiating a business project centered around banana fiber, and in agriculture, we prioritize local and climate-resilient food crops and cultivation methods.
How does ISF reduce violence in Kenya?
One extreme form of gender-based violence is female genital mutilation (FGM): in our project areas in Kenya, 68% of girls have undergone FGM.
The root causes of FGM vary, but they all stem from the subordinate position of women. FGM is performed because it is believed to secure a girl’s chances of marriage and thus a secure future. In a community where women are economically dependent on their husbands, being deemed ineligible for marriage can be a disaster.
FGM is primarily seen as a matter for women, and men are not supposed to discuss it. Therefore, older women in the communities are the main upholders of this tradition.
Intimate partner violence is also a significant challenge. It has traditionally been considered a private matter and even seen as part of a relationship. In Kenya, there is even a saying that hitting is a sign of love. 45% of Kenyan women have experienced violence in their lifetime, but support services are limited: only five percent of cases end up in court, and effective help for victims is not readily available.
Eliminating violence and improving women’s status starts by bringing up silenced issues for discussion and breaking rigid gender roles. Community-driven attitudinal change has been proven to be the most effective means of bringing about lasting change.
In our projects, we:
- Organize safe camps for girls three times a year. The camps take place during school holidays, which are considered a high-risk period for FGM. During the camps, girls undergo an alternative rite of passage and learn about their rights.
- Engage healthcare professionals and teachers who play a crucial role in ending FGM.
- Provide conflict resolution training and various discussion groups for women, men, and the entire community.
Our operational areas: Kisii and Nyamira
ISF’s work in Kenya began in 2015. We operate in areas with very few other international actors working to end violence against girls and women. We work in the lush southwestern region of Kenya, in Kisii and Nyamira, near the borders of Tanzania and Uganda.
The population of the region belongs to the Kisii tribe, which is an ethnic group belonging to the Bantu people. The Kisii (also known as Gusii) are the sixth-largest tribe in Kenya, accounting for seven percent of the country’s total population. Kenya is ethnically diverse, with over 40 different tribes, the largest of which are Kikuyu and Luo. The Kisii people speak the Kisii language, but English is widely spoken and understood, along with Swahili, which is the country’s lingua franca. Over 80 percent of Kenyans are Christians.
The Kisii region is one of the poorest areas in Kenya, despite the Kisii being one of the most economically active tribes. Sixty-three percent of the population in the region live on less than one dollar a day. Despite the richness of the soil and abundant rainfall, food insecurity is a problem in Kisii and Nyamira. Inequality in land ownership, low profitability of agriculture, and fragmentation of land are significant factors contributing to high poverty rates. In Kenya, it is common for inherited land to be divided into smaller and smaller plots among the sons of a family, further reducing the cultivable land area.
Our projects in Kenya:
- CECOME – Empowering the community on SRHR towards the realization of reduced gender-based violence (Kisii District, Kenya): The CECOME project aims to increase awareness of girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive rights by providing education to members of school, youth, women, and men’s groups. The project also trains child protection, education, security, and health authorities. Events, campaigns, and initiatives are organized to address issues such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, and other harmful cultural practices that endanger sexual and reproductive health.
- Manga Heart – Raising the voices of the community against FGM (Nyamira District, Kenya): The Manga Heart project targets teachers, doctors, authorities, village chiefs, and religious leaders. They are educated about violence against women and the harmful effects of female genital mutilation, as well as the legislation prohibiting it. Discussions and cultural and sports activities are organized in schools to provide age-appropriate information about the harmful effects of FGM to both girls and boys.
- Solidarity – Gender Equality Forum (Kisii and Nyamira Districts, Kenya): A gender equality forum has been initiated in Kisii based on a survey to promote gender equality. The forum brings together local stakeholders to identify discrimination faced by women and develop solutions for promoting women’s and girls’ rights. The forum aims to facilitate networking between civil society, businesses, and research institutions. Through the forum, Solidarity extends its work in promoting gender equality beyond projects and integrates gender equality into the local civil society’s agenda.
- Bosinya Women’s CBO is a livelihood group consisting of 260 women who run a savings and loan scheme and provide counseling to their members. The project focuses on enhancing the association’s capacity to support its members’ agricultural profitability by collaborating with municipal agricultural advisory services and seeking solutions for climate change adaptation in partnership with experts. In the long term, the project aims to establish a reception, processing, and distribution center for the association to elevate women’s agricultural entrepreneurship. The project also addresses domestic violence within families by facilitating agreements on property and time usage between husbands and wives and raising awareness about the harmful effects of female genital mutilation.
- Nyamira North Women’s Sacco provides microfinance and livelihood support services to over 1,600 women entrepreneurs. The project aims to enhance climate resilience in crop cultivation and improve the profitability of value chains in agricultural production by strengthening the cooperative’s capacity to offer services internally or in collaboration with experts to its members. The cooperative’s commercial expertise and networks are also expanded. The project collaborates with municipal advisory services, researchers, and private sector actors. The cooperative offers specialized services for disabled women, and as part of the project, efforts are made to prevent domestic violence within families and raise awareness about the harms of female genital mutilation.