By Senbetta Zinna
“We envision a world in which African women leaders are actively participating in key decision-making processes across sectors.”
This visionary statement is at the heart of the work and herstory of Kenyan nonprofit Akili Dada, a nonpartisan organization founded in 2005 to address the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in Africa.
Since March, Akili Dada has been training 30 young Kenyan women who are vying for political office in the August 2017 elections through the Young Women Political Aspirants Training workshop series.
The candidates come from a variety of political parties and different regions across Kenya. They come together in Nairobi at Akili Dada headquarters for training on campaign strategy, branding, resource mobilization and more. Workshop instructors with extensive political campaign management experience share strategies and advice with the candidates, emphasizing the differences between advocacy and campaigning and the importance of supplementing passion with strategic campaign planning and a professional political platform.
As much as the workshops are about teaching, they are about discussion and learning among the women participants. The challenges of being a woman vying for what is traditionally a “man’s position” are shared by women across the globe. Despite the reality of political party malpractice, gender-based violence, public disrespect and underrepresentation of women in the political sphere, participants in the program build each other up and use their unique stories and difficulties to learn, grow and motivate each other to pursue their goals.
Twenty-five-year-old candidate Gertrude Chemutai Kurgat comments: “The best way to empower future generations of women is to break the barriers ourselves. There is nothing that is impossible and being female is not a handicap. The reason we enjoy the little space we have is because other women before us chose to do it themselves.”
Women in the political aspirants program are passionate, driven individuals who are deeply involved in their local communities. In addition to Nairobi-based workshops, candidates have the opportunity to host town- hall meetings called Dada Dialogues in their respective counties. Dada (or sister, in Swahili) Dialogues are women-only events where candidates meet up with locals to share information about their campaign, educate women about voting and the electoral process, and provide women with a platform to talk about issues they are experiencing and the importance of women in leadership.
For Floridah Angila Ashitua, a 31-year-old candidate, women in leadership is the foundation of her campaign. “My campaign goal is to get more young women in my country involved in both party and national politics. I am passionate about the advocacy of young women’s active participation in all spheres of leadership and … my goal is to inspire young women and girls to envision themselves in community leadership and to make sure that they are willing to fight for inclusion and not just wait for affirmative action.”
Joyce Ngumba, director of Akili Dada’s Innovation in Leadership program, says, “Our hope is that wherever these young women end up that they leave a mark and that they actually make a difference wherever they are, and that ultimately they do lead, because we need more women in leadership, no matter what sector.”
This blog was first published on the YALI Blog