NAIROBI/TRANSMARA, 23 December 2009 (PlusNews) - Two years ago,
fed up with a husband who drank too much and provided too little,
Julie Amunga, who lives in the sprawling Mathare slum in the
capital, Nairobi, decided to start a business that would enable
her to support her family.
"My friends and I all had husbands who drank too much and beat us
at home and yet they were not providing anything for the home,"
she told IRIN/PlusNews. "We would sleep with other men secretly
to provide for our children but we realized we were not helping
our children because prostituting would only make us acquire HIV
and die early."
Amunga and five friends decided to pool their savings and use
them to start small businesses; they also got a microfinance loan
from the Jamii Bora Trust, which works to empower youth and women
in Nairobi's slums.
While she and another woman have managed to sustain successful
small businesses - she grows and sells vegetables and fresh fruit
juice in the local market - the other three found it much harder
to make the loans work for them.
"Their husbands cheated them and took all the money yet we were
supposed to pay back the loan," she said. "Others took the money
without knowing which business they want to start, so ... they
ended up spending the money."
According to Joseph Kwaka, executive director of Community Aid
International (CAI), an NGO that runs a micro-credit programme in
Nyanza and Nairobi provinces, making micro-credit available to
women - and especially widows - helps cushion them from poverty,
but without proper preparation and training, can just as easily
"Our experience with offering credit facilities to women is that
many take the money and end up using it to buy family needs like
food, clothes, without even starting a business for which you
gave them the money," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "Others will tell
you the husband took all the money and used it for drinking or
maintaining another woman, forgetting that this money should be
repaid and the only way you can repay it is by starting a
"The family sinks deeper into poverty because the family property
against which the credit was advanced is carted away by the
lending organization," he added. "Micro-credit then ends up as
bitter pill for many women to swallow."
Consefta Kimundu, who is raising eight children alone after her
husband passed away five years ago from HIV-related
complications, joined a group of widows to form a farming
cooperative four years ago. The group, based in the Rift Valley's
Transmara District, combined their contributions and approached a
local bank for a small loan to lease land and buy seeds and
They had the benefit, however, of training from the UN World Food
Programme (WFP), teaching them to measure the moisture content of
the maize and how to clean the maize according to WFP standards.
"We meet weekly to encourage each other to repay the loan because
we will need it again," said Christine Nyongi, the group's
chairwoman. "We are now better farmers because we were trained by
WFP in farming skills and how to keep our grains clean."
Earlier this year, WFP's Purchase for Progress initiative gave
the group a contract to supply 250MT of maize.
"Now my children can go to school - I can buy their uniforms, buy
them shoes and clothes and they are happy like other children,"
Kimundu said. "I can buy food for my family and I can buy
something for myself too."
According to Kimathi Mutua, managing director of K-Rep Bank,
which, with USAID, runs a programme to provide microfinance to
people living with HIV, it needs to be about more than just
"A programme like ours helps to reduce stigma that women face
because it gives them hope and protects them against the negative
economic impact HIV might have on their lives, but it is not
enough to give them money," he said. "Train them in business
skills, how to market their businesses and even customer care so
that they have a holistic business knowledge."
While several studies have shown that microfinance empowers women
financially and improves their self-confidence and even reduces
HIV risky behaviour, a 2002 Ugandan study found several drawbacks
to many microfinance programmes, including too-small loans that
enabled women to purchase household needs but kept them in the
same economic bracket, oppressive repayment periods and lack of
proper training in business and other skills. The authors
suggested providing women with sufficient training and loans
large enough to buy meaningful assets that would significantly
improve their financial position.