News & Ideas  -  Kettering Global Fellows at Work: William Tolbert

Democracy around the Globe Lisa Boone-Berry

By Lisa Boone-Berry

This blog post is the first in a series highlighting the work of the 2023 Charles F. Kettering Global Fellows for Advancing Inclusive Democracies. CFK Global Fellows is an initiative of the Democracy around the Globe focus area with the goal of fostering an international community of partners to promote and defend inclusive democracies.

In Kenya, women are disproportionately likely to live in poverty and, too often, lack access to education, health care, employment opportunities, housing, social protection systems, justice, cultural expression, and participation in political life.

William Tolbert of Kenya has been working to address this problem. The objective behind his fellowship project was to raise the awareness of grassroots women about opportunities for them to enhance their participation in local decision-making about matters affecting them. In his report to the foundation, he states:

In Kenya we still have high levels of poverty, and we have challenges and issues of access to education, health care, employment, and so many other things. But truth be told, those who get affected most are women.

At the national level and global level, we can have quite comparative pictures. We have representative members of parliament who are women. We have leaders who are women.

But that’s not a reflection of the actual situation on the ground . . . which still indicates that women are being left behind. And because these women are marginalized, the ability of women to participate in the society is often frustrated.

To foster community capacity development for women, Tolbert created a tool kit designed to help raise democratic awareness. His entry point to the community was the local chama, or self-help group for women. Chamas provide essential safe spaces for women to articulate their rights on key issues and can serve as a mechanism that enables them to contribute to political, social, and economic life. As the political space is very dynamic and tends to favor men, the self-help groups can be good spaces for introducing women to and including women in civic processes. Even though these spaces provide women the opportunity for expression, most chamas do not have correct information regarding matters concerning democracy. Because of this, the majority of women do not have a comprehensive view of what democracy is and is not.

In partnership with Women in Water and Natural Resources Conservation (WWANC), a women-led organization, Tolbert hosted a three-day awareness-raising workshop in a small rural village. There in Navakholo subcounty, Kakamega county, a church was provided by the community for Tolbert and women of the local chama to meet.

The workshop went so well that the WWANC board is considering using Tolbert’s tool kit across all 11 counties where the organization has a presence. As part of his project, Tolbert created a short video with workshop highlights and participant insights. To watch, click here.