Time: an elusive resource for women seeking to advance in business


Meet Mwende from Kitui, Kenya – 42 year-old high school graduate and a mother of three children, one boy and two girls. She is married to Kasyoka. Her day normally starts at 5:30 AM, but today she has an additional task.

Muungano wa Aka, dairy cooperative is meeting today and as a member, she must attend; otherwise she will be charged Ksh 100 if absent without excuse and Ksh 50 if late. Therefore, she will not be opening her small grocery shop today. This morning she woke up at 5:00 AM. She now quickly warms up water and goes out to milk the three cows. She prepares the bathing water for her husband, wakes up her children and gets them ready for school while also preparing some tea. Having had breakfast by 7:00 AM, the children and their father set out for the day. What follows is a series of activities that Mwende must quickly carry out.

She considers herself blessed because she has enough milk for her family and also to sell to her three neighbours and to the small hotel, 3 km away. This is what helped her pay for her daughter's school fees last term. Mwende drinks her tea while chatting briefly with one of the neighbours who has come to collect the milk. Afterwards, she feeds the cows and chickens and gives them water. She must get out quickly to deliver the milk to the hotel. This will be a two-hour trip. She has also planned to fetch firewood and water before the afternoon group meeting.

Her son comes home for lunch and therefore she must be back on time to cook for him. Her husband returns from work at 6:30 PM but immediately leaves for the shopping center. Mwende doesn’t know the reason he went there. She serves her children dinner at 8:00 PM. Having finished their homework, the children go to bed at 9:00 PM. Kasyoka arrives shortly after, having drunk a bit of alcohol. Mwende serves him dinner and sits and chats with him as he eats. She clears the table and starts cleaning the utensils so that she can have an easy start the next day. By the end of the day, at 10:00 PM, she has accomplished a wide range of tasks, including milking the cows (both in the morning and in the evening), washing clothes, digging and watering her vegetable garden, preparing dinner and helping her children with their homework. Tomorrow she will be going to the shamba to dig the soil and will also open her shop later in the day.

Mwende and Kasyoka are fictional characters but their story reflects a culture that divides labour based on gender, something learnt at home and reinforced in the community. According to SNV's qualitative gender study, in Kenya, women spend nine hours a day on reproductive responsibilities (child bearing and rearing, care for family members etc). This means they have very little time for anything else, although they aspire to succeed in business. Men help occasionally but society would consider them controlled by their wives if this became a recurrent affair. However, with men slowly giving up their primary role as breadwinners, women have taken up this space and combined it with their reproductive roles. This leads to extremely heavy workload.

To run a successful and viable business, enough time needs to be invested in developing it, acquiring new skills and gaining access to finance. SNV is seeking to address the issue of workload through social behaviour change and particularly, through household dialogue. The goal is to stimulate husbands to help with some of the reproductive roles and support their wives in efficiently using their time by for example adopting clean energy technologies like improved cookstoves. Many couples are now joining social groups in villages to openly discuss this issue with the help of local facilitators. Facilitators are usually well known individuals, highly respected by the community.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under the Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW) window, has funded SNV to implement the 'Enhancing Opportunities for Women's Enterprises' (EOWE) programme. The goal of the project is to advance women’s economic participation and self-reliance in Kenya and Vietnam by creating a conducive environment for female entrepreneurship. Besides building women's capacity to run successful and viable businesses, the project aims to build the capacity of government actors to implement gender-sensitive policies. This is being accompanied by civil society's bottom up pressure for effective implementation.