We initially decided to employ women to craft the Ajiri Tea and Coffee packaging because women tend to reinvest over 90% of their earnings back into their families and communities. Employing women, it seems, is the best way to lift entire communities out of poverty. And 12 years down the line, we have seen just that---women investing in their own daughters' education, women renting land, women investing in livestock and small business ventures---all through their earnings with Ajiri.
But being pillars of society, holding half the sky, being the backbone of society, is just exhausting. Employing solely women, "empowering" only women, and other women-focused initiatives in developing countries somehow absolves men of responsibility in the narrative. Or rather, men are left out of this narrative of community-building. Women, so long excluded from positions of power and opportunity, must only be not the answer to society's problems, but rise gladly to solve the problems.
Women reinvesting their earnings, buying cows, building new homes, starting small businesses is inherently impressive. However, simply put, it is none of our business what they do with their earnings. To only invest in women because they will go on to reinvest is patriarchal. It is uncomfortably "colonial." No one is asking us what we are doing with our own paychecks. And certainly no one is asking men what they are doing with theirs.
But we continue to employ women not for what they are doing with their money but rather for what they can't do without it. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa provide the majority of the agricultural labor, yet own anywhere from 1% to 13% of the land (according to a World Bank Working Paper). In Kenya, only 7% of women have title deeds to land. In order to secure a loan from a commercial bank, women need some kind of collateral. In rural Kenya, this collateral is often in the form of land. With their earnings (and the support of Ajiri-led microfinance initiatives), women have begun to amass real capital.
But let us tell you not about the life-changing chickens or the land or the school fees. Let us tell you about the things that are remarkably familiar. Most of the women have bought new dresses. They go to the hairdresser. They've bought new cupboards and sofas and teacups. They are proud of their homes and eager to show our staff their new cutlery or new piece of furniture.
Perhaps women do hold up half the sky. But you can still look dignified in a new dress, sitting on a new sofa, and enjoying a fresh pot of tea while doing it.
Thank you for your continued belief in our product and the people behind it.
Kate, Difna, Ann, Regina, and Sara
Comments will be approved before showing up.