To mark World Intellectual Property Day, we meet a group of women basket weavers in Kenya’s Taita Taveta County who turned a pastime into a livelihood by building a brand and protecting their work.
JORA VILLAGE, Kenya – When a group of women from Kenya’s Taita Taveta County first decided to band together to sell handwoven baskets, they only hoped to make a little money on the side. But today, 17 years later, many of them are the main breadwinners in their families, upending patriarchal norms that stretch back for generations.
The key to their success did not come from a technological innovation to boost productivity or a cash injection from a local NGO. The women behind Taita Baskets owe their livelihoods to a trademark.
“I have always known women in my community to be housewives and fully depend on their husbands, who were herders and small-scale perennial farmers,” says Keziy Mwaluga, a basket weaver and 65-year-old mother of five. “[But] women are now fighting inequality in income generation and property ownership.”
As if to prove her point, women start streaming into her home. Quickly, they unpack their sacks and pull out baskets to finish. This is a full-time job for every one of them.
Only a few years ago, the women of the Taita tribe only wove baskets during their leisure time, using them to carry food to their farms or seeds while planting in the fields. But as the cost of living rose, the women gradually started selling their baskets to others who do not weave. Then they started selling them to exchange students from Europe and the United States who live in the cottages on Mount Kasigau.
Eventually, one of the women suggested they form a group to help negotiate better prices. The women agreed and came together in 30 small groups scattered throughout the villages.
The 400 women were now all working together, but could not figure out how to reach a market beyond fellow villagers and foreign students – until 2016, when the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) came to Taita Taveta County to run a workshop on building a brand. In cooperation with the local government, the Japan Patent Office, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Kenya Industrial Property Institute and the One Village One Product program, WIPO trained 100 women on quality control, branding, the importance of trademarks and intellectual property.