Something has been happening of late that has turned my world upside down. This isn’t the first time my world is being turned upside down. My world has turned down so many times I haven’t been counting. Having to explain why I have chosen to advocate for the rights of women and the girl-child has turned my world upside down.
For the past few weeks I have been searching high and low, calling nearly every one on my phone book asking for – yawn – sanitary pads for a group of girls whose ‘problem’ became ‘my problem.’
I was in the editing suite at work surrounded by five women. We were editing the following Saturday’s SUNRISE AVENUE, a children’s programme airing on KBC TV, when a lady colleague came in. After the usual greetings and small talk she dragged me away from the others.
“I’ve just heard over the radio….” “That the condoms have finally been found from a willing donor?” I asked. (There is currently a deficiency of male condoms in Kenya which has gotten massive media coverage.) “No,” she said. “It’s not that. It’s something more serious and I need your help.” “What is it?” “A group of one-hundred-and-three girls need sanitary pads so they can continue attending school.” “Would you mind talking to the others?” I asked, pointing at the five women chatting behind us. “I am choosing you because you deal with a children’s programme,” she continued. “I know you are the right person.” “Here is what we are going to do,” I said, as we laid out a plan that has turned my world upside down.
It is a week since I began working on this project and I have had a response that hasn’t brought in a load of sanitary pads but ‘sneers’ from both women and men who believe I have no business delving in women’s issues. I have called and emailed a number of people whose response ever since I joined World Pulse has been nothing but shock at my decision. Like I said, it was the simplest of requests. Little did I know my whole world was going to be turned upside down and I would be forced to explain why I choose to make ‘women’s problems’ my own problems.
I grew up as a first born, in a family made up of four women – mom and three sisters – and a younger brother. My dad passed on when I was thirteen. In our community when a man dies his wife MUST get inherited. Since my mom refused we became outcasts who suffered as a result. For so many years our grass-thatched hut leaked while its mud walls caved in. When it rained, we would all wake up to trap rain water in basins, pans, and cups. At night we would see the moon and the stars shining in the dark sky. I always looked at the twinkling stars and thought about the story I had read about Romeo and Juliet.
I grew up seeing women – and girls – suffer in a society that looked down upon ‘being a woman.’ Women were meant to be seen and not to be heard unless they were screaming from the beating they got from their women-hating husbands. Even at a tender age I started thinking of a perfect world where no one was discriminated against in terms of sex, tribe, race, ethnicity, education, economic or social status. I knew I would achieve this through becoming a journalist. Going to school was something else I wouldn’t wish on any child. I remember going to school wearing torn uniform – instead of using buttons I used matchsticks. We suffered a lot, because my mother decided to exercise her basic human rights.
When I was 20 years old, an influential village elder advised me to force my widowed mother into getting inherited if I wanted to be helped through college. There I was, having all these wonderful dreams and what stood between me and them was my mother! A few years later I joined, and dropped out of college, in my two attempts because my uncles said I had failed to fulfill my role as a male first born which is to force my mother to follow our traditions.
As I packed my bags I thought about my life’s mission and purpose. Though the future looked bleak there was something I could do. That is when I decided to come to Nairobi to pursue my dreams of becoming a journalist even without going to college. I have learnt a lot from the ‘Homegrown University’ where you respond instead of reacting to life’s many challenges.
I applied and got my current job where we producer for a children’s TV programme. There is no single day I don’t think of caving in to the pressures of not having gone to college. What gives me the courage to move on are the images I remember of seeing my mother, the other women and girls in the village suffer in silence. Now that I am working I am supporting my mother and siblings. My work is giving me satisfaction and joy since through it I am impacting on the lives of children.
I know I am biting more than I can chew by trying to make the world a better place for this generation and the many ones to come. I take every opportunity I get to use the little money I have, my skills, experience, talents and time to mentor girls and boys into becoming better people who care about others and the world around them. I try to make girls – and women – understand that to get fully empowered they MUST involve their male counterparts.
Lastly but not least, there is something else I have discovered. I have realized, much as I don’t want to believe it, that there is a woman inside of me. Wait a minute, will ya?
There is a woman in every man and there is a man in every woman by the virtue of being hu–MAN beings. We all share – a man and a woman – the MAN in the word human. That makes a woman out of me, and by extension it makes a man (if you are a woman) out of you. That is what makes a woman’s problems and issues my own. That is the reason why I choose to be a World Pulser. Now that I have gotten this off my chest, let me continue being a male World Pulser who has decided to empower girls – and women.
P.S: I am still looking for a permanent solution so the 100-plus girls can have sanitary pads every month and I am convinced I will one day go to college and acquire a diploma in journalism, so help me God!