* By Clementina Sarange – Akili Dada Intern
Three shouts of joy in place of five, this is where the battle begins, even at birth the girl child begins a struggle that she does not comprehend as the odds stack against her. She is groomed to care for others, to cook and clean, to do the simple and ‘safe’ things. In some cases her designated place is to be the kitchen – in fact this is to be her permanent home. Her choices are more often than not made for her, not of her own accord, but of the societal placing. Every day she eyes the paper with print and the blank white sheet that holds the creation of her brothers’ imaginations. She longs to bear the weight of the bag that she sees him come home from school with every day, if only for a day, just for a moment. This seems to be what gives him the upper hand. Years down the line she brings forth a new generation of her kind that has a flame and thirst for the same thing she yearned for, but with greater determination. She is willing to risk it all that they may actualize their potential in a diminutive and ostracizing society. This is the journey of a girl.
Those fortunate enough to escape the grim reality shone above, and that gain access to education and who have the privilege of owning her own dreams still face challenges. They look around for role models that she can look up to, but instead are faced with overbearing facts about women in leadership all around the world. One of the most powerful nations, America now ranks ninety-eighth in the world for percentage of women in its national legislature, down from 59th in 1998. While in countries like Brunei women have not been able to cast votes since 1962 and in Lebanon women are denied the right to vote because they do not meet the requirement of having an elementary education. You see with such disheartening realities, it’s easy for girls to lose hope and give up, but women like Angela Merkel of Germany, Louisa Diogo of Mozambique and Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine have made in spite of these challenges and stand as pillars of encouragement that give girls hope.
The average girl in my community holds big dreams for her community and country. Although Kenya has made quite progressive strides towards equality, it remains that there are more foreign role models for us to look up to than local. Few mentors to help us actualize their dreams. Not to say that we lack our own but that our voices are few and far in between and those that stand out still face other obstacles in their paths. A good example of this is the battle for equality in the Kenyan parliament. We finally got to the point as a nation where positions were opened up for women in the form special seats for women representatives and party nominees. Progress indeed, but this progress is under threat as voices of discord have arisen challenging the need for ‘special seats’ and threatening to set us back or at the very least slow down the progression.
It was these realities that the average girl faces and is set to face in the course of her life that inspired my colleagues and me in the Akili Dada Gap Year Program to take action and initiate a project that allows us to serve as role models of leadership to our Dadas at the Dagoretti Rehabilitation Centre. It’s not enough to leave the role model choice to the far-fetched high-ranking women. It’s time to create a local change. With the support of Akili Dada and in conjunction with PACE, we undertake various activities aimed at improving the responsibility levels and chances of acquiring leadership roles for the girls in future. We use sports like volleyball and football for goal setting and to instill the values of discipline, self leadership and endurance; arts like music, drawing and dance to boost the girls thinking capacities; farming to instill values of entrepreneurship; and most importantly education to provide them with grounds to base their success.
For them having relatable and tangible experiences is far much more beneficial than distant examples of leadership. With girls helping their fellow girls, this world will go far in the next 50 years because the change we want will come at the rate and in the ways we need when it happens locally, for and by our own communities.
It is time for our youth, for us, to drive civic engagement at a local, national and continental level to make the change we want for the girls and women.