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Mabati Women Groups in Nyeri

Keywords: Women & Gender equality
Poverty Eradication


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 families.

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 saving time.


- About 126,000 people have benefitted in terms of improved housing and related services.
- 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 children.
- 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. J. Malombe
    Dr. Joyce Malombe
    Box 30197


    Women Groups
    Dr. Joyce Malombe
    Box 30197

    Non-Governmental Organizations
    The Director, HABRI
    Box 30197

    Central Government

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