Transformation in Abagusii Women’s Informal Economy in Nyamira County, Kenya. C. Ad.1900-1963.
Nyaboke, Ayuka Mildred
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Historical studies have been blamed for silencing women. While women play a leading role in the informal sector today, studies on colonial women in the informal economy are lacking. In an attempt to address the problematic of marginalization and silencing women in studies on the colonial economy, this study (i) examined the participation of women in precolonial economy of the Abagusii of Nyamira County (ii) interrogated the extent to which colonialism transformed women’s economic engagement in Nyamira and (iii) examined the participation of women in the informal economy in Nyamira County. In pursuing these objectives, the study was guided primarily by the theory of articulation of modes of production. According to this theory, the introduction of colonial rule and, subsequently, dependant capitalism in Kenya led to the co-existence of precolonial modes of production and capitalist modes of production. Women came to play a leading role in the pre-capitalist mode of production as they were not targeted for supply of labour in European capitalist ventures. A historical research design was adopted for this study. Data which informed this study was obtained from three main sources. Primary data was obtained from Kenya National Archives and from oral interviews. Secondary data was mainly accessed from public and private university libraries as well as from research institutions such as the British Institute in Eastern Africa. Both purposive sampling and snowballing sampling techniques were adopted in the recruitment of informants. Old men and women were purposively targeted in this study and those who were initially recruited were asked to suggest names and contact details of other potential informants whom they knew. The study observed key ethical issues whereby informants were recruited voluntarily upon signing an informed consent form. They were asked to keep their identity anonymous if they so wished. The study commenced after a research approval was obtained from the National Council for Science and Technology. A qualitative document and content analysis was employed at arriving to the findings presented in this study. The study established that Abagusii women played a significant role in the pre-colonial economy in Nyamira County. This they did either as women or alongside men. Also, the study established that the colonial government introduced policies and laws which transformed the economic role of women in Abagusii society in Nyamira County. These policies included introduction of tax as a measure to trigger male migrant labour. Due to low wages paid to male migrant labourers, most households had to increase farm production in order to sell surplus production. Women’s surplus production increased after the Second World War due to improved methods of production, adoption of agricultural knowledge by Africans which was delivered by agricultural extension officers, and expansion of urban centres, among others. As a result, women were able to participate in informal sector on a large scale since they had enough farm produce to offer for trade. The study concludes by stating that women’s participation in the informal economy is not a post-colonial phenomenon. Women participated in the informal economy during the colonial period except that their voices had been muted by failure of historical studies to dedicate attention on the subject. The study recommends that women’s own initiative to participate in the informal sector needs to be built upon by development experts and policy technocrats with a view to creating a condusive environment for their continued participation in the same.