Half the Sky: Making a Difference Through Economic Empowerment

Posted on September 29, 2012

When women have equal control over their finances and the financial decision-making on the personal, community, and national levels, everyone benefits. 


Known as the ‘cradle of humanity’, Kenya is mired in poverty. In a country known for their world-class runners and safari adventures, one-fifth of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. Ingrid Munro is the founder of Jamii Bora, a microfinance organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. In a country where 50% of the population lives below the poverty line, microfinance, health insurance, life insurance, and business school seem to be some of the best solutions to the countrywide struggle. Microfinance is the practice of providing financial services—such as loans, savings, and insurance—to people with limited income and resources, who are typically excluded from the formal banking sector. These services include small loans (sometimes as little as $100) or savings plans to start a business or invest in income-generating projects.

As a result of microfinance organizations like Jamii Bora, many women in Kenya have become the financial providers in their families. 38-year-old Jane Ngoiri is a Kenyan woman introduced in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into OpportunityMarried at the age of 18, after becoming pregnant with her second child, Jane’s husband decided to take in a second wife. Jane and her two children were forced to leave their home and make a living without any financial stability. Desperate to provide for her small children, Jane became a commercial sex worker. In 1999, Jane decided to join Jamii Bora and soon learned how to save for the future. By learning to sew, Jane was able to create her own dress business and leave prostitution for good. For women like Jane, wealth does not come in the form of money but rather having the ability to send her four children to school, where they each are at the top of their class. When asked by Nicholas Kristof if there’s a difference in the way a husband treats his wife whether she’s working or not, Jane says, “When a man sees that he’s the one who’s providing everything in the family he’s very bitter. When a woman is earning, they are very cool.” It is no surprise that women in countries like Kenya rarely have any rights. 

In a country where domestic violence is considered part of the culture, wives are told that they should be mistreated and beaten. “Husbands believe that they have a right to beat”, states Rececca Lolosoli, matriarch of the Umoja Women’s Village in Kenya, “Nowadays we try to empower the women. To make new small businesses.” Nestled in the Samburu region of Kenya lies a feminist village called Umoja. Rebecca Lolosoli is a survivor of domestic violence and sustains Umoja by making and selling traditional beadwork. When asked about the women in Kenya, Lolosoli replied, ““We want to choose our husbands. We want to own the land. We want to go to school. We don’t want to be cut anymore. We also want to make decisions. We want to participate in politics, to be leaders. We want to be equal.” 

To learn more about this issue, tune in to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This two-night broadcast special will premiere as part of Independent Lens on PBS on October 1 and 2, 2012.


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