East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative January Workshop Report

East African Young Women’s Leadership Initiative January Workshop Report

Each girl received a copy of Wangari Maathai's authobiography, Unbowed: A Memoir

The five Kenyan women gathered at the Seuseu Cultural Centre in Olosh-Oibor, Kenya on January 3rd for their annual workshop.

The workshop began with a review of last year’s meeting in Arusha. Each woman discussed how she had applied those lessons in the previous year, and gave an account of their experiences in the program:

Elizabeth Kironua discussed how many women, and especially Maasai, have been marginalized because they don’t know their rights. She also convinced her father to stop cutting down trees and burning charcoal on his farm, which she noted are large contributors to environmental degradation. Elizabeth also reported a clean bill of health throughout the year, for which she was very thankful.

Hellen Naiponi successfully convinced two young girls in her village to object to undergoing FGM. She said two of her friends refused the ritual. She also reported maximum support from the program officials and her parents.

Joyce Kakenya also convinced some girls in her village to object FGM and early marriage, instead encouraging them to go to school. She spoke of her increased boldness and sense of empowerment after last year’s workshop. Although she had some health problems during the year, she gained confidence from winning a zonal debate as the most articulate speaker.

Sabina Siankoi remembered last year’s discussion on climate change and how she closely relates to it because of the shrinking Mt. Kilimanjaro snow caps. Coming from the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, she says farmers complain of frequent droughts since it is not raining as much now as it used to years ago. She said she shared the Arusha experience with her colleagues in school. Sabina is actively involved in sports, and even with challenges like the school well breaking down for a time (leaving the girls without any clean water), she is encouraged by the support she receives from both the program staff and her mother.

Ann Nailantei said she remembers the field visit in Arusha where she saw Maasai participating in small entrepreneurships where ordinary products like milk are added value through processing and other new products such as cheese and yogurt are developed. She says this is very important in generating income that will enable parents to send their children to school and meet health requirements. Ann laments that she has not been receiving maximum support from her foster family, but was motivated by being elected class prefect.

Left: Joyce and Elizabeth read some of the workshop materials.
Right: The girls all participate in a tree-planting.

Next the program facilitators, including Josephine Nashipae of The League of Pastoralist Women of Kenya (LPWK), led a discussion centered on women’s’ rights, climate change, and the indigenous peoples movement. They spoke of challenges like pastoralist women having little or no access to medical attention, which negatively affects reproductive health, family planning, and pre- and post-natal care. The result is uncontrolled births, high mortality rate, and escalated poverty levels. Cultural practices such as FGM and polygamy have also increased risks associated with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Creation of awareness on these issues among the pastoralists has been a big challenge due to difficulty in accessing the remote areas and the conservative nature of pastoral communities.

Although sections added to the Kenyan Constitution in 2010 allow women to own land, most rural Kenyan women do not own property, mostly because of cultural precedent and the remoteness of these populations. Many groups are working on eliminating the stigmas against women owning property, and certainly girls education programs like this one are aiding the effort.

The young women were asked to list aspects of climate change that affect their communities, and they mentioned the following:

  • Excess heat and ice meltdowns like the ice cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro harm normal farming cycles
  • Causes poverty because livestock die as a result of drought and crops fails to grow
  • Caused by pollution of the environment and skies
  • Degrades the environment and makes it inhabitable
  • Can be controlled by stopping the cutting down of trees and instead planting more

This brainstorming proved that the women have a lot of ideas regarding climate change. They are quite knowledgeable and were encouraged to continue researching more information.

The young women did not know much about the UN and Indigenous Peoples. A brief introduction was made with an assignment to the women that they should research more in this area so that in the next meeting they are more knowledgeable about it. This topic will be further expounded in the next workshop.

The young women planted a tree in honor of the late Wangari Maathai, and also received a copy of her book, Unbowed. They are each to complete a write-up of the first five chapters by April, as well as read more about the UN, climate change, and the indigenous peoples movement.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Salau and SIMOO