Wear Our Story: Modern beadwork earning Turkana women decent income
What you need to know:
- Efforts by the county, in partnership with Ushanga Kenya Initiative, led to transform the traditional beading for personal jewellery into an economic venture.
- Twenty-one women were equipped with improved bead-making skills for production of quality market-oriented products.
- They were skilled in unique product designing, tools and equipment usage, quality finishing, colour coordination and pricing.
Turkana women have for decades been associated with beautiful beads around their necks.
The culture of beading women begins with girls as it is perceived that beaded girls are 'gold' or banks where the income of the families is saved until suitors emerge. The more beads a girl has around her neck the more she attracts wealthy suitors.
Several organisations such as the Forum for African Women Educationalists - Kenya (Fawek) had, however, raised concerns after establishing that the beading culture promotes early marriages and teenage pregnancies.
"Due to the beading culture, child marriage was widespread when girls are between the age of 10 and 18, with a category of girls aged 15-18 being the majority and accounting for 80 per cent of early marriages and teenage pregnancies in Kakuma, Turkana West sub-county," Fawek chief executive officer Teresa Otieno said.
Following evidence-based outcry over how beading culture has immensely undermined girls’ education by fuelling school dropout rates, various groups of women opted to revolutionise beading, turning it into a key income earner.
Ms Dorcas Apem from Katilia village in Turkana East says that it struck her during a chief's baraza that beading girls was denying them their constitutional right to education as most of them dropped out of school.
"I recalled that in towns, other communities were embracing beaded ornaments. Now that it was my passion to make beads, I began with decorating earrings, belts, rungus, handbags and bracelets to make them more attractive," she says.
Ms Apem became a beneficiary of the efforts by the county government, in partnership with national government's Ushanga Kenya Initiative, to transform traditional beading for personal jewellery into an economic venture.
Together with other 20 women, they were equipped with improved bead-making skills for production of quality market-oriented products.
“The women were skilled in product designing, tools and equipment usage, quality finishing, colour coordination and pricing. This aids them in making their products more competitive in the market, thus uplifting their livelihoods," says Ms Stella Lochodo, the County Culture and Tourism chief officer.
She said 20 women from Katilia now use their expertise to develop a unique design called Katilia with the theme 'Wear Our Story' that encourages everyone to buy and wear their products.
She noted that the women are coming from a banditry-prone zone that exposes them to vulnerability, but with beading as a business, most of them are now breadwinners.
The county official encouraged the women to work hard and constantly improve their products to attract tourists for higher income.
“The Culture Directorate is currently constructing several curio shops for beadwork to provide ready market for final products," Ms Lochodo says.
The devolved unit appealed to the trained women to share their skills with others to turn Turkana County into the home of quality traditional and modern beaded items for the local and international markets.