I’M …….MY SISTER’S SISTER
I remember being very vocal in airing my opinions even from a tender age. Having been brought up in a family of all girls, I remember refusing to conform to girlish or boyish things, especially in school. I had never been told that I cannot do this or that at home because I am a girl and I vehemently refused to be defined solely by my gender in school too. This contrast in my socialization process at home and in school was undeniably my genesis into feminist leadership.
My name is Catherine Wambui Kiama. I was born 25 years ago; raised and educated in the capital city of Nairobi. I hold a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of London. I am not sure at what point in life I decided to study law but my family probably always knew that was meant to be my destiny. After completing my O level education, it dawned on me that our educational process, granted teaches us things that are of paramount importance but students leave school with good transcripts but with zero life skills. As a result, many young O- level leavers get into quite a messy tangle especially in the duration leading up to the release of their results. Many of the young girls who I have talked too often tell me that they did not have the necessary information to protect themselves and make informed decisions. I decided at this point that I needed to do something. Sex education is part of the 8-4-4 curriculum but after conducting a survey in several schools in Nairobi and its outskirts, I quickly realized that the same is not implemented. Either our teachers are too shy to discuss this and our parents leave the whole burden to the schools and religious institutions would just rather not touch this subject altogether.
‘Sisterhood’ was born out of these needs to provide young teenage girls with essential life skills. Sisterhood is a mentorship program that aims to encourage, inspire and support sisters to rise to the challenge and be the best they imagine themselves to be. Sisterhood tries to be a bridge that safely transports these impressionable young teens to be responsible adults. The program runs in high schools in Nairobi and its environs and adopts a curriculum based on the needs assessment of the school and the students. Core topics that are always addressed include self-esteem, HIV & AIDS and goal setting. The program also tries to hold educational fairs where the students can get guidance and career advice especially before they choose what major units to take up in their final years of study. The program is run on a pro-bono basis and an effective way of inspiring the girls is to bring women who grew up in the same locality and who may have even attended the same schools and have excelled in their respective fields. This I have noted is the best approach to take as the girls and the mentors can identify with each other. Within Nairobi, “Sisterhood” deliberately targets slums and informal settlements where this information is much more essential. Quite recently Sisterhood has started a similar program for the boy child and has incorporated mixed secondary schools into the target populous.
Based on the teenage empowerment program, I had the privilege of attending the YWLI feminist leadership training which a six month course. Based on the theme of the Institute; ‘My personal is political my power to influence change’ the most humbling thing I was constantly reminded of was that first of all I need to take care of myself to be able to take care of others, This necessarily means that I have to take care of both my physical and spiritual, and mental self. It was insightful to realize that as a young woman most if not all of my decisions may have already been made for me by a political class. It is with this realization that I am embracing my personal as political and using this to air the grievances of both women and young girls and calling for women to rise up and let their voices be heard. During the fellowship, I had the honor of being indulged by remarkable women leaders who have left lasting foot prints in the fight for gender parity in Kenya and beyond. It was also truly comforting to form solidarity unions with other young women leaders who are doing remarkable things to make a better world for future generations. The greatest lessons I took with me from the institute was probably that the journey to self realization and to make an impact however small start with me and my first small steps….
The institute equipped me with the skills that I need to mentor the teenage girls and boys and to embrace my personal as political and use this understanding as my power to influence change Following the Institute, Sisterhood is formally undergoing registration and aims to continue running mentorship programs for both girls and boys within Kenya and hopefully on day beyond that geographical confine…
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.