Lydia Mukami – Promoting Economic Justice for Women
Lydia Mukami is one of the women human rights defenders in Kenya. She was threatened and assaulted for her activism to improve the economic wellbeing of women farmers in Mwea agricultural scheme.
Farmers have long decried the policies and management of the National Irrigation Board (NIB). The NIB, bought all the rice produced by farmers in Mwea depriving the farmers, who are mostly women the freedom to choose their own markets and buyers. The policy stated that women in the scheme, including the widowed, could not own land and that once a child reached 18 years of age, they were expected to leave the scheme. Most women farmers were not permitted to speak before men or to express their opinions in opposition to those expressed by men, although women performed up to 61 percent of the requisite labour in the farms.
Lydia Mukami founded the Mwea Foundation in 2008 to fight this menace. In October 2012, Mwea Foundation joined with the Center for Legal Empowerment (Kituo cha Sheria) to make an official petition to the Attorney General of Kenya seeking a court order to declare the Irrigation Act (Cap 347) and the Trust Land (Irrigation Areas) rules of 1962 unconstitutional.
On 20th July 2012, Lydia Mukami called for a public meeting to explain and educate the farmers on the status of the ongoing court litigation. She outlined the demands and garnered the farmers’ support. Among other demands, they sought a declaration that the Irrigation (National Irrigation Scheme) Regulations were in contravention of the Kenya Constitution 2010 due to its exclusion of women from land ownership. Whilst addressing farmers in Mwea, Lydia Mukami was interrupted by armed men, she was “roughed up” and subjected to sexual harassment in public. In June 2013, Lydia Mukami was abducted and abandoned in the bush by unidentified men who had spent several hours subjecting her to physical assault. Her assailants interrogated her about the case while threatening her to stop being involved. In November 2013, Lydia Mukami and Mwea Foundation won the case. The court decreed the unconstitutionality of the Mwea Irrigation Scheme to the extent that it excluded women from occupation. The judgment from the court was unexpectedly favourable and set a precedent for an overhaul of the Irrigation Act and a formal investigation of the management of the Mwea Scheme.