Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I grew up in Nairobi, lived in langata for the better part of my childhood years and still live in langata. We are a family of five. I have two brothers whom I love dearly. One is in form four the other is in his first year of a foundation course.

Growing up I loved reading to this day I still love to read. I loved the big old novels with very tiny font; those took a while to finish and were much more interesting. I loved swimming and was very good at it can’t say am still good at it I have not been at it for a while.  I was loud as a child I am still loud, I was strong willed and always spoke my mind. I still have more of those characteristics and I believe they are my best qualities.

I was not really good at math but really good in English and history. Those were my favorite subjects, I guess mostly,because I found reading much easier than calculating and figuring out how to use formulas.  Even as I progressed to high school, my strengths included English and history to this day in my opinion you haven’t been taught English unless you were taught by Mrs. Omollo my high school English teacher.

I am currently pursuing a bachelor degree in law at the University of Nairobi School of Law. I have just completed my fourth year exams.  Growing up I was very passionate about the law( I was and still am a very good public speaker) I especially loved arguing out my points more so when I knew I was right and the other person was wrong.  It is from my primary school experience that can say that my passion for the law was cultivated. I was in Loreto Convent Msongari primary school.  I was in a class full of girls whom to this day I believe are some of the greatest minds in this country. Each day my classmates positively challenged me, they challenged me to improve my grades, they challenged me to read more, to accumulate more knowledge and to learn new “big” English words so that I would use them the next day in class, just to seem even if it was for one day, as the brightest student in class but that was quickly short lived because the next day someone else would come having learnt a new word. On the plus side law does not have that much math it was a win win situation.

I would say I love studying law because I believe without the law society as it is right now would be in a state of anarchy. I believe that the law brings about order in society and instills a need for responsibility. I also do believe that the law has the power to bring about significant change in the society. I would love to be part of this change and not only be a part of it but also play an active role in ensuring that laws that will have a positive impact on society are enacted. This fueled my need to explore inter-sexuality as my thesis topic.  Through the law the rights of minorities can be championed. For me inter-sex individuals in Kenya are a minority group whose fundamental human rights have been violated and continue to be violated.  Intersexuality is not a unique phenomenon, it is not a disability and it is not a disease that requires to be corrected. I believe that by conducting research into this area I will be able to bring to light the plight of intersex individuals in Kenya and also suggest legal reforms that are long overdue that will enable the legal recognition of intersex individuals in Kenya. The journey has not been easy but I have been able to complete my thesis and I hope to build on it n future. I am not only passionate on issues affecting minority groups but also human rights issues and issues affecting women in Africa more so sexual reproductive health issues.

My experience at YWLI has been an eye opening and educational experience which I was very fortunate and grateful to have had. I learnt a lot on issues surrounding sexual reproductive health that affect women in Kenya. Through YWLI I was able to conduct research into the area of abortion. For me abortion has been a very grey area, for me it has always been a conflict between morality and fundamental human rights. Form YWLI I was afforded the opportunity to conduct an offline survey and also to deduce several findings from the survey. Firstly  that abortion is an issue of fundamental human rights more than morality and secondly that the law as it is, is patriarchal in nature and as such does not adequately and effectively address the issues affecting women.  My time at YWLI was also a learning experience I learnt how to conduct and compile research.  I was also able to make valuable connections with persons who would assist me with my thesis. All in all my experience at YWLI was a very valuable experience that i feel very fortunate and proud to have had.

I am a proud feminist. It took me a while to get to that point of appreciating feminism. My experience at YWLI helped me appreciate feminism and to be proud to be one. As such I will leave you with a quote by one of my favorite authors Jane Austen, for me this quote encapsulates the struggle and the journey  of feminism , equality and equity .

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Domitilla: The making of a community leader

Domitilla Mukanganza is a community leader in Kagugu Sector, Gasabo District, City of Kigali. She is also the head of her women’s cooperative. Her story finds genesis in domestic violence on her path to becoming a community leader.

Domitilla could only bear one child, and for this had to suffer humiliation and physical violence at the hands of her husband who found her worthless in her “infertility”.
It matters little that the beatings began in 2006, over 20 years after she gave birth to her son in 1985.

The battery started after her husband had been away from home for three days, and after Domitilla wanted to know where he had been, not seeming to care whether the family had eaten while he had been away.

For four years the physical and emotional violence continued all this while being reminded that she could not bear him more children.

In 2009, matters got out of hand after the husband took a hoe and hit her on the head, leaving her with a deep cut that needed medical attention. But when Domitilla reported the matter to the Police with help of concerned neighbours, her husband was held in the cells for only a few hours and released without charge.

It was around this time she came to know about Rwanda Women’s Network, to whom she poured her problems and received sympathy, and especially the safe space where she received counseling and group support.

Domitilla recalls the initial assistance she received to store her bean harvest at RWN premises away from her husband to prevent his selling them to get drunk. And, to supplement her income, she received training in weaving mats, bedcovers and other artifacts through Hope Cooperative, a socio-economic support group at RWN that found market in places as far as the United States of America.

While being able to earn steady income was empowering, she says it is the training she received on women’s rights – that women have equal rights as men – that would pave the way to who she is today.

Before she received the training in women rights, of which she is now a community paralegal, she did not believe she could stand for herself or speak before people.
But she gained in confidence and became more assertive, so that her husband and community took notice and began to give her respect.
She also gained weight. From 40 kilogrammes, she is much healthier and now weighs 63 – the right weight for her size.

As she gained her weight and confidence, she noticed how people around her were paying more attention when she spoke. She began being called to solve domestic issues as her advice was sought to maintain harmony in her community.
This led to her being elected head of her cooperative group of 30 members that engages in various socio-economic activities.

She is now a community leader in Gicikiza, her Umudugudu (village), where she is overseeing the monthly community activities (Umuganda) that also provide a forum to discuss issues affecting the community. She is also in charge of efforts in her village against gender-based violence where women and children are involved.

Domitilla has since reconciled with her husband and is today a grandmother of four, with whom she lives with her son in Gicikiza.

 Contacts:            Rwanda Women Network
                                Email address:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

“Respect all kind of work to become successful”

My name is Elfnesh Abegaz. I was born in the Western part of Ethiopia. I don’t know the exact year of my birth; I just know that it was in a remote rural area. My parents didn’t send me to school because back then it was thought useless to send a girl to school. I was employed as a house maid at an early age to support my family after coming to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and after a while I moved into a textile business.

In 1970 E.C, I got engaged to a man I used to do business with and started living with him then after; we now have 8 children together. I used to run my business and engage in Ikub (rotating savings) to feed my children. But the fact that the textile business held too much money left me with a hard time expanding my business. As a result, I found it difficult to feed my children and lead a good life.    

In the meantime, the Organization for Women in Self Employment (WISE) opened up a branch office at one of the Sub-Cities in Addis Ababa and I heard about the Organization for the first time. I searched and found its location to become a member of the Organization. I started saving money and took the basic business training course. I took my first round of loan 500 Birr ($50) right after the training.
I expanded my textile business with the money and started to trade. The blazing sun was difficult to put up with everyday that I had to put on tarps to protect me from the excessive exposure to sunlight. Irrespective of the difficulty, I managed to repay my loans on time. I continued taking out loans and repaying on time and sometimes I even earned twice the money I took out as a loan. Truly, my savings started to build up.
I have taken 11 training courses offered by WISE that helped me to plan my life, become aware of the culture of saving and the various working experiences and to implement or put them in action. I used to spend money before but not after the training. During the Epiphany (Meskel) Holiday (celebrated widely in the area I came from), I used to spend all the money I earned on my children because I wanted them to celebrate the Holiday equally with my neighbors. But now after having discussions with my children about how we can properly plan our budget for the Holiday I started to save money to be able to support my children who are in College instead on wasting it on a one day holiday.

Also, I used to stay at home during holidays. But now I go out to the market to sell my goods to make profit then celebrate the holiday with my family after work. After the trainings, I have become determined and fully dedicated to my work. The business training taught me to deal and handle my customers properly creating a profitable relationship. I work with my husband who brings me goods from the farthest market in town.
Now I have taken my 8th round loan which is 36,000 Birr ($ 1895). I have 27,000 Birr ($ 1421) in my savings account. I have a plan to expand my business more to achieve more in the future by fully investing all my time on my business. I advise others to respect all kind of work to change their life, to become successful and to be able to send their children to school rather than sitting at home complaining there is no job available for hire and spending their precious time drinking coffee with like-minded individuals.

Finally I would like to thank WISE for all the encouragement and support it provides us. 

Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Qualities that define her personality as an African woman of strength

Persistence- When I believe in something I keep on despite the odds against it. I remember I once was working in a team of trainers for media where I was the only female for a few years.Whenever I said anything with regards to women rights, women voices been heard or empowerment in the team, I was initially treated with skepticism and was branded a “feminist”. But with time I was able to introduce a training module into a preexisting training program on conflict sensitive journalism. The conflict and women module was aimed at increasing the voices of women in media especially the actors involved in conflict issues and capturing the unique experiences that women go through during a time of conflict. I was also involved in developing a strategy on how we could increase the number of women journalists to the trainings we conducted.

Mary’s AWLI experience

 My AWLI experience was mind blowing. From learning about women’s rights, to leadership and how to conduct myself as a leader, among many other topics helped me understand so many things I had not known in the past. In my personal life I have been able to assert myself whenever challenged on issues on women and her right to be heard and in my career development I have consistently been involved in various forums where I have been able to learn a lot on what is going on in women’s movement and in most cases been able to translate it to the trainings I conduct and also in telling stories of women especially on their health and safety.

Unique aspects of the AWLI training and lessons you got from AWLI that have proved particularly effective on improving her work with women

One of the unique aspects that was also one of my major lessons was on the practicality of the sessions. One session I will never forget is the one on how to be confident when you present yourself in any for a. I was initially a very shy person and could barely speak out my opinions leave alone even walking to the front of a room. When I heard about how I could improve on my confidence I made a conscious decision to try it. It wasn't something that I got immediately; it took many years for me to build that confidence. The fact that I am now a trainer and make presentations in front of many participants is something I don’t think I would have ever achieved if the seeds of how to be confident had not been instilled in me during the AWLI training.

The AWLI as a MUST for any young woman! Would you recommend any young woman to this training?

Oh yes I would. The young woman, if she is anything like me, will go to the training expecting to be like any other training where many people will come and talk to us and then leave but the fact that we were able to spend so many days at the workshop, meant that every trainer had adequate time to share information and took in many questions from the participants. If you are not as confident as I was then, the trainers who stayed at least for a few days with us and were open in their approach gave us the opportunity to have tea, lunch and ask the questions one has. As one of the organizing officials told me, the change for various participants happen differently. There are those who when they leave the training have their lives changed dramatically but there are some (like me) whose change will come later on but the main thing is that all of us would be able to associate that change with the training we went through.

“Fuelling” the women’s movement through the years!

The women’s resilience in light of the opposition they face. Also I think the positive stories of women who have gone against all odds and made a difference that is attributed to the women’s movement has gone a long way in giving examples that others can emulate and galvanized the movement. Every stride made in the women’s movement is celebrated and lessons learned and adapted to suite the various situations that other women work at emulating.

New challenges and new opportunities facing African women’s organizing today

The internet /new media/social media is the way to go in terms of providing new opportunities that women can tap into in terms of information. I have been involved in mentoring women leaders to utilize citizen journalism tools in telling the stories that the women’s movement is facing. However the main challenge that this poses is that women actors are exposed to is online insecurity as they are cyber bullied , have their date hacked and face various internet offences. But not all is lost as there are now tools that can help women protect themselves online.
A message for any young women interested in political leadership in your Country
“Go for it. But please, please don’t give room to people to say that they regret having allowed a woman to take up the position and not making any change as some women have done in politics as they relax in the throes of leadership. You need to do your best to impact the change that will keep reminding people why they need more women as political leaders.”

One thing you should not forget about Mary’s leadership journey;

“That I was able to make a positive contribution towards a person thinking differently on a certain aspect of their life and utilizing it. What would be even greater is if this thought/change would go a step further in impacting their society positively” 

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Transforming a Girls Life through Soccer

I am an enthusiastic, confident young woman who loves football so much! I recall the first time I kicked a football was when I was about 10 years in primary school, it was amazing how much joy a single ball could bring. I happen to come from a sporty family, my older brother used to play for the Men’s National Football team. I would often listen to matches he played in on the radio. I wanted to be like him, and one day play for national team and my dream came true……

 I would excel in sports so much in school. I played football and netball but football was what I loved the most. My school team would excel so much in football that we would make it to the nationals; my parents would try and stop me from playing football, they wanted me to focus more on my studies.

 The secondary school I was in did not excel so much in football; we only made it to the district level. So after secondary school, I began to play football seriously and joined a football club in Dagoretti known as Dagoretti United Sisters. While playing for Dagoretti United, Mohamed, Binti United Football Club coach spotted me and convinced me to join Binti, which is sponsored by YWLI. 

When I joined Binti, I realized Binti had a lot more to offer and that’s when I decided that was something I wanted to part of . When I was in Binti I would play as well as coach and mentor young girls. I believe that there is a great link between sports and leadership. Sports has a lot more to offer other than just gaining fitness and being on the field and having fun, you gain a lot of personal skills. When you play football you take on roles on the field for example when you are tasked with being captain, this requires you to be resilient, a team player and have good listening skills. These are skills and qualities that you need to apply in your daily life.

Through Binti I gained experience in coaching girls team, I gained managerial skills, I gained leadership skills through attending trainings and forums organized by YWLI that helped boost my skills as a leader. Am currently working with girls who are much older, which is very interesting, many people  have the perception  that it’s difficult to work with girls, but I have discovered a way to get them intrinsically motivated. I expose them to what opportunities are out there for young women.

As a football coach, I strongly believe that girls would benefit from playing sports in their adolescent years. I believe that soccer acts as form of support system for the girls. It offers them a space where they can interact  and gain life skills. For myself, I don’t know where I would have been without football. It has opened doors for me and allowed to excel to great heights.

I believe that a lot more needs to done support girls and women’s football in Kenya. The lack of support makes many girls withdraw from football. The governments support towards girls and women’s football is minimal.  Many parents also do not support there girls to play football as they feel that the girls should be at home assisting with household chores.
I encourage girls who are currently playing to continue, I have seen girls who have been able to pursue higher education through football scholarships.

We can all play a role to ensure that girls and women football grows, through supporting women and girls who play football.

By Caroline Ajowi

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

“From Nothing to Something Big”

I was born in 1959 in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. I am the only child for my parents. My parents were separated and I used to live with my father, who was a boxer, and my grandmother. My father always took me to his boxing matches until he died during a party he was invited to celebrate one of his victories. After my father’s death, my mother no longer wanted me to stay with my grandmother and so she took me away with her. 

However, I very much wanted to live with my grandmother and so run away from home and went back to live with grandma right after my mother’s second marriage ended in divorce.
My grandmother was a businesswoman and I assisted in handling her business after school until one of my friends and I decided to withdraw from school and start a business. I became a street newspaper seller. I get the newspaper from a Printing Press and started the business but it didn’t last because I could not stand all the abuse from boys on the street. 

Then I withdrew from school at 4th grade to work for the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia at the age of 11 to support my grandmother. I worked as a coffee picker for a long time with a pay of 75 cents ($.075) per day.

In the year 1985, I got engaged and I am now a mother of four. My husband was a soldier in the Air Force. Our incomes put together never sufficed to satisfy the household needs. In addition to the money I got from the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia, I queued up for long hours to purchase goods with lesser price for both household consumption and to sell. After working for the Coffee Board for 35 years, I resigned from my job due to depression and upon departure was paid 3,000 Birr ($300) for my service of 35 years. The Corporation’s business activity was then closed.

I became a housewife for five years then on. In the meantime, a mother of my daughter’s friend, who was a member of WISE, advised me to join WISE. I was suffering from an illness at the time and so had my daughter, who failed to pass the 10th grade national examination, get registered instead of me. She managed to complete her College studies with the loan she took out after she received WISE’s training. She is now employed.

One day, I went to WISE to repay my daughter’s loan and got myself registered as a member when the secretary told me that both a mother and a daughter at the same time can become members. I applied to become member on that same day which was back in 2010. I then took the training courses which changed me like I was born again.

I learned how to start my own business, which I started with the 1st round of loan I took out which was 700 Birr ($70). However, after taking the creativity and professional development training, I was inspired to engage in the business of selling knitted garments as well in addition to the coffee sailing business I already had up and running. On the New and Viable Business Ideas competition, I then received an award for making knitted dresses and won 2,000 Birr ($190). I was capacitated to be able to provide for my family.

I now have 5,000 Birr ($ 263) in my savings and am eligible for the 4th round of loan which is 5,000 Birr. I have purchased a bank share and was able to raise my share capital from 2,000 Birr to ($105) to 7,000 Birr ($368) within a short period of time. I also once again won 8,000 Birr ($ 421) on the 2006’s New and Viable Business Ideas competition. I am a member of a Cooperative called ‘Wegen Le Wegen’ and one of the members of Committees and I am determined to assume any responsibilities as long as I am a member.

 I have a plan to expand my knitting business by purchasing a sewing machine with the prize money I got; I am tired of the regular rejections I face from the seamstresses claiming a broken/bent needle while sewing my patterns. In addition, I have a plan to buy a washing machine since the clothes get dirty very easily as they are knitted by hand. And in the meantime, I plan to buy a car for my husband so he can have his own cab. He is currently a hired taxi driver.

I advise my sisters to become a member of WISE so that they are no more called housewives but entrepreneurs.

Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Smashing Patriarchy!

 I am an emerging leader and a feminist working with the Resource Center for Women and Girls, in Machakos. I grew up in a community where girls faced many challenges and throughout my early life, I always wanted to change this reality for me and other young girls who faced similar challenges.  The difficult thing about being in such a position was getting a platform that would help amplify my voice in a very patriarchal society.

Working with the Resource Center for Women and Girls offered that platform for me. So many opportunities opened up for me including attending the Feminist Leadership Institute in 2011 hosted by Young Women’s Leadership Institute. The leadership institute was an eye opener for me and through some of the lessons learnt and unlearnt in that institute, I have become a better leader. I joined a political party and I am always interested in listening to and criticising any decisions our government makes involving women especially through the Young Women’s Leadership Institute’s platform.

I am in my final year in the University of Nairobi pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Philosophy and it is fascinating to see how patriarchal   previous scholars in the academic world were, with very little to read about ancient women scholars, although I’m happy to note that is currently changing.

 I am currently involved in a social change project that collects and distributes sanitary towels to girls in rural Nairobi who drop out of school due to lack of sanitary towels. I am also in the process of partnering with Single Mothers ‘Association of Kenya who sell re-usable sanitary towels and train women on maintaining hygiene during their menses. This is a project I am passionate about because it is very heart breaking to see a young girl with so much potential  missing school every month for 7days due to lack of sanitary towels, and this same girl, given the opportunity could excel in her society, which means less teenage pregnancies, better opportunities for her and reduced poverty levels.

Working with young girls and women is a passion I regard dearly. This is because it is quite evident that given an opportunity and with resources availed to them; women do bring about positive change in society. Women’s challenges are very similar all over the world and their resilience and zeal to overcome them inspires me and makes my passion for my work grow to greater heights.

Getting linked to the Young Women’s Leadership Institute was a golden opportunity for me. I was still new to leadership and feminist related matters and it is through YWLI that I was able to understand better that being a leader in my own way through different projects and assignments leads to many positive changes in the society for me as an individual and for my fellow young women.

I got to expand my network through meeting different young feminists who are promoting social justice in their societies. I learnt and unlearnt in the process and got involved directly and indirectly with different activities through the broad networks I gained from YWLI’s trainings and activities.

YWLI has been a big part in my growth as a leader and I am happy to be able to transfer my skills to the beneficiaries of our Resource Center for Women and Girls program through various activities and also directly through linking some of them to attend the trainings organized by YWLI.

I call myself a feminist because of my attitude and approach towards patriarchy. Patriarchy makes me Mad!! and I don’t understand why in very many parts of the world, women remain oppressed and are treated as inferior either through culture or government practices which do not favour them, while on the other hand when I look at different women even in their small ways, I see so much untapped potential.

It is quite evident that women are usually in the forefront of many changes and developments in the society yet the opportunities availed to them are very limited. Even in the current changing world, we still see some harmful practices intended to intimidate women in their leadership roles especially those in government positions.

Feminism has always been in existence, silently, even during the ancient and medieval times. We still have a long way to go; I can confidently say that the far we have come, it has taken some strong feminists to pave the way for us.

In future, I want to be among the loudest feminists in not only Africa, but also the world. I want  young girls by then to have feminist core values inscribed in them because, it is the feminist values which awaken the inner untapped potential of young girls to fight for their rights and to break free from the shackles of oppression by male dominated societies.
I would like to encourage young women to be the change! Change the world.

Ivy Nyawira

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.