The Mabati Women groups constitute a movement by poor women in the central province of
the republic of Kenya who in the 1960s came together as groups to address the immediate
welfare needs of members. Since the groups were formed on the basis of women's own
initiatives, they are often engaged in a cross section of development activities that
relate to them and their families. In this connection, they mostly use locally mobilized
resources, have local leadership and use indigenous reciprocal and communal assistance
principles. These groups have resulted in improved shelter, empowerment of many women and
have successfully addressed poverty iconcerns.
The Mabati Women Groups movement started in Nyeri in the early 1960s. The women wanted
to improve their houses as a sign of development which was supposed to come about as a
result of independence. Their main preoccupation initially was housing improvement. After
the houses were improved, the women undertook other activities according to their felt
needs. Such other activities include purchase of building materials for water tanks
construction, construction of rental houses and conducting sewing and knitting classes.
Conditions Before Mabati Women Groups' Activities
Traditionally women were in-charge of gathering roofing materials for house construction.
Roofing was mainly done with grass which is normally not a durable building material
especially in areas with a lot of rainfall. In Nyeri, the roofs had to be replaced every
year, an activity that was both tedious and time consuming for the women. Further, grass
became scarce due to increased population, land consolidation and the spread of cash
cropping. This meant that less land was left fallow and the grass farms used for thatching
was becoming increasingly more scarce. In essence, land consolidation, cash cropping and
the inability to gather thatching grass at random contributed to the accelerated formation
of Mabati groups. This problem was coupled by increased demands on the times of the women.
Further, most husbands left rural areas to look for jobs in urban areas and children, who
would initially help their parents had to now go to school.
All these factors among others made it very difficult for the women to cope. Moreover,
some of the women had lost their husbands during the liberation struggle and this left
them on their own. These circumstances had increased the poverty of women, most of who had
hardly any education. They realized at this point that the only way to survive was to join
hands with other women in similar circumstances and hence the mushrooming of women groups
around this time.
Conditions after the Mabati Women Groups
The activities of the women groups have significantly improved the housing conditions in
Nyeri district. Most of the groups in agricultural rich areas of Mathira, Othaya and Tetu
divisions have completed roofing their houses after which they have undertaken other
development activities. Some of the groups are even starting a second round of housing
development by financing construction of new structures. The groups that have been in
operation for a long time have engaged in other shelter improvement activities like
fencing homesteads, buying utensils for members, making/purchasing water tanks for
members, planting trees, utilizing improved energy saving jikos among others.
The activities of these groups have significantly benefitted the communities in this part
of Kenya. One of the major visible benefits of these is the progressive improvement of
shelter including services. This is evident in the district as ther are very few houses
with grass thatched roofs.
In addition, the process has empowered an estimated 18,000 women in Nyeri to be able to
plan and implement projects of their own choice. The confidence gained from these
activities has enabled these women to not only change their situation but that of their
The groups have also addressed poverty issues and funds obtained from these efforts have
educated children and bought property and met other basic needs of the family. Their
efforts have also enhanced community development in the sense that they have been actively
involved in many development activities within their area.
Some women have also been able to access credit from revolving loan funds with their group
as collateral for borrowing funds when they need to.
The groups have also responded to the felt needs of women by addressing the issue of
- About 126,000 people have benefitted in terms of improved housing and related
- About 18,000 women in Nyeri district have been empowered.
- The income levels of many women have been raised.
- Many women have been able to buy property and a majority have been able to educate their
- Some women have been able to access credit.
The Mabati Women groups have clearly been involved in shelter activities that are
sustainable. This is mainly because they depend on their resources. They undertake only
the projects that they are able to afford. In addition, they are the main decision makers
and only get involved in activities of their choice and within their means. Most of the
groups are also involved in income generating activities. Furthermore, the group members
have developed strong ties which enable them to be committed to the course of the group.
The groups have survived the test of time and are some of the most stable groups in the
country. They have also adjusted as the needs of the members have changed and therefore
continue to be relevant to everyday needs.
The activities of these women are initiated, organized and undertaken by the women
themselves. The groups are usually started by women due to their inability to cope with
their daily demands. Most of these women also do not have a stable source of income and
realize that they can achieve more by joining other women. Formation of other groups is
usually motivated by obvious sucesses of other groups. For example, the mabati women group
movement started in mathira division.Other groups saw what was happening and started
similar groups. The movement has since spread to the whole district and the country at
large. The activities of the women groups have also encouragedthe provincial
administration as a way of bringing about development in these areas.
Dr. Joyce Malombe
The Director, HABRI