By Eliza Rosenthale for Seeds to Sew International
January 29, 2018
“When we are protected, when we are respected, when we are able to thrive and given the same opportunities as our male counterparts, when we are given space to lead and rise — our nation will rise,” Linda Sarsour wrote in an op-ed for Women’s Media Center.  Linda Sarsour was one of the co-chairs for the 2017 Women’s March that made history and gathered millions of people of all backgrounds, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, classes, and walks of life in a powerful protest for women’s rights. The energy was felt again in hundreds of cities across the country just last week, as thousands gathered to empower the women of our nation on the anniversary of the Women’s March.
In addition to the importance of the fight for equality for women within our country, there are also women around the world who need our voices and our support in their struggle for basic rights. Why offer support to women across the world when we already have a lot of work to do for women in our own country? Of the world’s 1.3 billion poor people, it is estimated that nearly 70% are women. Women do almost 70% of the world’s work, but generate only 10% of the world’s income, and own 1% of the world’s land. In most countries, women work approximately twice the unpaid time that men do. Two-thirds of the 130 million children worldwide who are not in school are girls. Between 75-80% of the world’s 27 million refugees are women and children. Only 28 women have been elected heads of state or government in this century and women hold only 11.7% of the seats in the world’s parliament. The total global population of girls ages 10 to 24 – already the largest in history – is expected to peak in the next decade, nearly 50 million girls are living in poverty, and yet 99.4% of international aid money is not directed to them. In the developing world, gender inequality is an even more dire problem.
Particularly in Kenya, women are deprived of basic rights and are second-class citizens socially, economically, and politically. In Kenya, women have significantly less access to education, land, and employment. In poor areas, less than 25% of girls go to school. Only 62% of Kenyan women who are of working age are employed, and those who do get jobs only earn 67 cents for every dollar that a man makes. An estimated 26% of Kenyan girls are married before their 18th birthday, and women living in rural areas are twice as likely to be married under age 18 than women living in urban areas. This urban-rural divide has increased by 36% since 2003. This severe inequality of the genders in Kenya is rooted in the country’s history. British officials brought these sexist stereotypes to the country during colonial rule in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse of women is socially acceptable in many parts of Kenya. “In my community, women admit that they do not know that they are being ‘abused,’ and that they think this is a normal way for women to be treated,” says 26-year old Beatrice Sisina Shanka, an activist from the Inkinyie community.
This is why Seeds to Sew is currently working with women in two subsistence farming
villages in rural Kenya, Maasai village in the Transmara District and a Kikuyu area in the Central District, which are disadvantaged, poverty-stricken areas. The organization’s goal is to empower women by teaching them basic sewing and business skills. The women that Seeds to Sew works with create Enkiteng Bags, Enkisoma Bracelets and Githomo Gifts. Sewing is typically a man’s profession in Kenya, so this is an important opportunity for these women in order for them to become self-sufficient. All the products that the women make are sold by Seeds to Sew here in the United States, and the profits go towards school-fees and other school-related expenses, as well as medical care and feeding their families.
With education, skills, self-esteem and an ability to generate income, women take on a whole new role in their communities. They are better able to control resources, they are able to influence decision-making and can bring about changes that have a lasting impact on their own well-being, their children, and their villages for generations to come. When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. The population’s HIV rate goes down and malnutrition decreases 43%. An extra year of primary school boost girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school boosts their wages by 15 to 25 percent. If 10% more girls go to secondary school, the country’s economy grows 3%. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.
Esther Nyambura Waithaka
Esther joined Seeds to Sew’s Enkiteng Program in Nyeri in 2012. Not only does she make Enkiteng bags (cloth gift wrapping bags) out of donated fabric, but she has now graduated to making the Enkiteng bags out of Kitenge fabric, as well as new products such as Kitenge knapsacks, headbands and scrunchies and kitenge-burlap wine bags. Esther was not encouraged to finish high school or attend university, but was lucky enough to have a family member to provide financial aid to send her to high school. Now, she hopes to help her children pay for their school fees up to university level. She has spent much of her adult life working as a housewife, and did not have the confidence to enter the workplace. Since joining the Seeds to Sew program while gaining business skills, she plans to continue to farm and sell vegetables until she has enough money to open up her own general store. Ester cares for four children and hopes to save enough money to buy a home large enough for her family to live comfortably. When asked what she would like to change about her community, she says: “I would create a few jobs so the idle people can have something to do and help themselves.” When asked how has her life changed as a direct result of the Enkiteng program, Esther responded:
Before I joined the Enkiteng Program, we used to go hungry because we didn’t have money for food but now we are able to buy food and also we don’t have difficulties in paying the school fees for our children.
Jane Wangui Ndirangu
Jane is also one of the seamstresses in our Enkiteng Program in Nyeri who joined in 2012 and started learning how to sew by making Enkiteng bags using donated fabric. She has also now graduated to making the Enkiteng bags out of Kitenge fabric, as well as new products such as Kitenge knapsacks, headbands and scrunchies and kitenge-burlap wine bags. Jane grew up in Nyeri where she still lives with her husband and their 3 sons. She also helps feed 5 other children in her community. She graduated High School and hopes that her sons are able to study up through the university level. In addition to the income from the Enkiteng program, she has a small business selling produce, and is hoping to grow her business, and start a tailoring business as well to ensure that her family continues to have a good quality of life. She would like to have a big farm where she could raise livestock, and help build a better house than the one they live in right now. Her dream is to have a business – running a green grocer shop. When asked what would she like to change about her community, she said:
Most of the people in my community are idle, and this leads them to taking alcohol, what I would like to change is to be an alcohol free community.
Prior to joining the Enkiteng program and learning how to sew, Jane worked primarily as a housewife and farmed and sold vegetables to make a living. Since she has joined the Enkiteng program, her life has changed because she has been able to afford to send her children to school. Her overall outlook on life has improved because on the program.
How you can help
You can be a part of providing this platform through which women and girls can create a future for themselves, their children, and their society. Becoming a volunteer is a great way to get involved with Seeds to Sew if you have an unpredictable schedule. You can help with anything from vending at various events, picking up and sorting fabric donations, replenishing products for sale at re-sellers, data entry, inventory sorting, and more. If you are available and willing to commit more of your time, an internship could be an opportunity for you. If you are in Middle School, High School, or College, you can become a Student Ambassador by submitting an application. It is important to Seeds to Sew that students gain knowledge about the challenges women and girls face in developing countries and get involved in our programs. Seeds to Sew Student Ambassadors will become invested in Seeds to Sew’s mission and operations, participating in activities to raise awareness, promoting programs, and selling products. Go to http://seedstosew.org/internships/ for the application. Another internship option is a Development Internship, which includes responsibilities such as tweaking existing programs and developing new ones, researching fundraising opportunities, reaching out to potential re-sellers, and more. This is a hands-on position for an out-of-the-box thinker who is an independent worker. If you are dependable, organized, self-motivated and outgoing, this might be an opportunity for you.
Help Seeds Sew in its mission to influence positive, transformative, and lasting change in the lives of these women and girls, their children, and their communities. Seeds to Sew’s philosophy in developing these programs recognizes the complex interconnectedness of individuals, communities, corporations, and political bodies. Working with non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), and other non-profit groups that align with our mission, the organization undertakes an inclusive approach, involving men, community leaders, local businesses, global corporations and governing officials in implementing programs. When you educate a girl, you educate a nation.
Seeds to Sew International, Inc. is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, US-based, 501(c)3, non-profit organization with the mission of improving the lives of women and girls in disadvantaged communitiesthrough education and job skills training. Our goal is for the women and girls in our programs to use these job skills to earn money and to support themselves and their communities. We educate participants about local laws, their basic rights and the rights of their children so that they can advocate for themselves as their income and stature in their community grows. Here in America, we are actively involved with schools and universities to raise awareness about the challenges that women and girls face in the developing countries and how our choices here at home impact communities a world away. We are also continuing to develop the market for the products our participants make as a way to provide income, pay for school fees and provide seed funding for their future initiatives. To find out more, visit www.seedstosew.org.
The Fair Trade Federation is the trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations fully committed to fair trade. The Federation is part of the global fair trade movement, building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty. To find out more, visit www.fairtradefederation.org/.
 Linda Sarsour, Women’s Media Center, 2017
“Shop.” Seeds to Sew International, www.seedstosew.org/.
 Ruth Levin et al, “Girls Count: A Global Investment and Action Agenda” 2005
 The Nike Foundations, “The Girl Effect” 2010
 “The Gender Gap in Kenya – Taking Stock and Moving Forward.” Democracy in Africa
 “The Gender Gap in Kenya – Taking Stock and Moving Forward.” Democracy in Africa
 United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990,
 George Psacharapoulous and Harry Anthony Patrinos. “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881 (Washington D.C.: World Bank, 2002)
 Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World” Yale News Daily 2003