Samburu women learn beadwork to end exploitation

More than 300 pastoralist women in Samburu have been trained on mechanised beadwork so they can make and sell their jewellery globally.

Photo credit: File

More than 300 pastoralist women in Samburu have been trained on mechanised beadwork so they can make and sell their jewellery globally.

The women said they will benefit greatly from the income and will no longer have to sell to middlemen at throwaway prices.

Middlemen often sell their jewellery internationally at huge profits.

The women have been trained on how to use machines to string beads faster and more easily to meet international market standards.

Pastoralist women are traditionally denied their right to own property, so they have virtually no income.

The Ushanga Initiative seeks to strengthen business and production capacity for the Samburu women as well as improve their competitiveness of bead products in local, regional and international markets for sustainable livelihoods.

Samburu County Executive Member for Tourism, Trade and Cooperatives Peter Leshakwet said women have traditionally made beads for personal decoration but they are seeking to turn the venture into a lucrative business.

"It has been a traditional venture for a long time. We are seeking to help women harness their potential and turn the venture into a lucrative business," Leshakwet said, as he thanked the Ushanga Initiative Kenya for transforming the cultural activity into a business to help transform the lives of pastoralist women.

Will use machines

According to Mr Leshakwet, the training will help the women save time since they will use machines to make work easier.

He said the Samburu government will work with the Ushanga Initiative Kenya to produce enough beadwork for both the domestic and international markets.

“The machines will help women improve on designs, increase efficiency and make different items that will be competitive in both local and international markets,” he said.

Florence Lesooli, a bead crafter, expressed optimism that the move to train women will help boost the beadwork business in Samburu, which has been dealt a blow in the past year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bead ornaments are popular souvenirs among tourists in Kenya and thus the devolved unit resolved to fully fund the Ushanga Initiative across the region before the outbreak of coronavirus disrupted normal operations.

In 2017, the government started the Ushanga initiative among Maa speaking communities to support women who have over the years displayed unique skills in beadwork.

The Ushanga initiative aims at creating jobs and transforming the living standards of the pastoralist women through the commercialisation of beadwork, but the coronavirus pandemic dealt the project a blow.

During the pre-pandemic period, the project offered a ray of hope to women from marginalised communities in West Pokot, Narok, Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit and Kajiado counties.