Three 'Musts' for Africa's Women Groups: Money, School, Rights

Article excerpt

TERESIA NJERI KODO is struggling on her civil-servant's salary to educate her six children. Yet she takes time each week to participate in a women's group that feeds elderly poor and sick in the slum where she lives.

And if the womens' group runs short of food for the elderly, she dips into her own pocket. "I cannot just walk away from their suffering," she says.

Women's groups have proliferated across African countries in recent years, tackling everything from legal rights to pooling ideas on how to produce more food.

The plight of most African women remains severe. They do most of the farming, yet often are limited by laws in obtaining credit. Few are elected to political office or appointed to cabinets.

And often, women like Mrs. Kodo are so busy trying to survive that they have no time or money to effectively lobby for change at the national level.

She belongs to a kind of women's self-help group that is common in Kenya. Each month, its 126 members pool the equivalent of less than $1 each, which goes into a rotating fund that provides the only way most members can ever get a chunk of cash at one time. Some such groups provide day-care for working members of the group.

But unaccounted money and leadership quarrels in such groups often lead to their demise, says Kodo. "Many collapse as soon as they look like they are heading somewhere. …

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