Is the Vision for Equality in Taita Taveta County a Mirage?

Travelling Gender Forum at Voi

The scenic, tidy and placid town of Voi conceals the realities of poverty and marginalization in Taita Taveta County. This is in the face of significant contribution to GDP from rich natural resources and cash crops. About 97% of land is occupied by the Tsavo National Park and private plantation estates. Residents in the county expect urgent action to tackle glaring inequalities. They are eager to take part in their county’s budget making process.

Hosting about 150 participants and numerous radio listeners of Anguo FM, the Gender Forum traveled to the county on 16th -17th May. The forum discussed the outlook for gender equality with reference to the County’s Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) and the budget 2014/15 (under discussion).

The county’s development plan and budget are considered the driver of actions that reflect the county’s priorities and commitments. The CIDP identifies 57% of the population to be living in absolute poverty. Maternal deaths and sexual violence are on an alarming upward trend. Women and children in the county spend an inordinate amount of time fetching water. The main source of livelihood for women is in subsistence farming and micro-business. Child mortality stands at 8.7% and of those surviving up to five years up to 34% are classified as malnourished. Yet one year into devolved government, the blueprint for the county’s development is still in draft form.

Articulation of gendered needs in the draft plan is laudable. It proposes a human development approach to measure the social economic wellbeing of the residents – these include the human development index, the youth development index and the gender inequality index. Violence rescue centers have been projected. The plan also envisions early childhood education centers, maternity wards in hospitals, water pans and better social services for the benefit of the marginalized. However the views of the residents have not been taken into account in the planning process. This could be attributed to the 2013 transition period to devolved government which forced the then juvenile institutions to hurriedly prepare development plans and the Finance Act in order to launch their work. As one participant aptly put it, the county should not merely inform them of their plans but involve them effectively.

CIDP Review

Lessons have been learnt in this kick off period. Public understanding of the convergence of the CIDP, the fiscal strategy paper and the annual budget as well as their role in the budget planning and process is low. The forum heard that public expectations are high and the window to commit to change is growing narrow. Their expectations are quickly translating to frustration with the pace of development. The county leadership in attendance at the forum confirmed that public engagement on the planning process has been inadequate and confirmed that the draft CIDP has now been re-opened to public scrutiny and dialogue.

On the flip side, women have been called upon to grab opportunities to demand real change. “Let us not behave like the tethered chicken let loose that continues to sit still. Let us spread our wings and claim our rights” called the representative from Maendeleo ya Wanawake. The county social development department is on the forefront to push for gender planning. The Chair of the Gender Committee, County Assembly Member Mr. John Maghanga stated “We will not tire in representing the rights of the marginalized.” He called on the people of Taita Taveta to engage their ward representatives to demand gender responsive budgets.