Meet Kenya’s Sophie Ngugi, a member of PulseWire, World Pulse’s online newswire. Sophie joined World Pulse in 2008, and is a frequent blogger and active community member.
World Pulse: Why women and why now?
Sophie Ngugi: I have had a passion for women’s rights since I was a young girl. I have a strong sense of justice and hence I have seen the issue of women’s rights as something very simple—social justice and nothing more. While my parents didn’t give any preferential treatment for boys, I still felt there was unfair treatment in school and in the community for girls. I recall a young girl during our nursery school days who was defiled. The issue was talked about in hushed tones, and even though I was only 7 years old and didn’t know what sexual abuse was, I felt shame on her behalf.
I realized early enough that many girls and women don’t get equitable opportunities to fully realize their potential in life, so I took every opportunity. For me, working on women’s issues is not a job, but a mission, my passion, and something I do for the satisfaction of making women’s lives better in any little way I can. There is no time like NOW!
WP: Growing up, did you have a strong female role model in your family or in your community?
Sophie: My mother is my strongest female role model. She never went to school because in her days, her father thought it was a waste of time, but she did help her youngest sister go to school. My mother was already working when she was a young girl and she bought fabric to hand sew my aunt’s first uniform! We still laugh when we hear the story, as we imagine what the uniform was like, but deep down we know this was significant and that my aunt must have been one of the smartest girls as she went for her first day of school. My mother’s determination saw her enrolled in adult learning classes in her old age, and she only quit when she got frustrated by the teacher who was too slow for her!
WP: What is the reality for young women in Kenya today?
Sophie: Women and youth are a majority of the population in Kenya, yet paradoxically remain largely unseen as a demographic unit in spite of their significance. In Kenya, women and youth are visibly under represented in leadership positions, policy and decision making spheres, hence young women face double discrimination. Studies and statistics on women and the youth are widely available; however, it is rare that young women are considered as a group with distinct social, health, legal, economic, and other problems. When addressing women’s and girl’s issues, the distinct issues and concerns of young women typically get left out of the women’s movement as they don’t necessarily fall into either category.
Young women often seek a space where they can be themselves without the prejudiced attitudes that often make it difficult for them to excel; the organization I work for, Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI), has created such a space. The young woman in Kenya has accepted revolution and has a determination to make the best of her life, but the patriarchal structure is still constraining them.
WP: Tell me about the Young Women’s Leadership Institute.
Sophie: Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI) is a feminist organization that was formed by a group of young women to address the intergenerational gap in the women’s movement. YWLI recognizes that young women need a space to nurture their leadership capacities, and we offer empowerment through different activities in leadership development, movement building, and sexuality programs. In most cases, young women conduct trainings and sessions, while engaging older women as mentors.
YWLI has been working with Binti, a football team of 25 adolescent girls. My first encounter with Binti was at a peace tournament in 2007 where they were defeated and appeared intimidated by skilled, older players. Two years down the line, they are now not only a professional disciplined team of girls, but an empowered lot of young women who speak openly about issues in their lives while mentoring fellow girls in their schools and community. Through participation in our forums, the girls are empowered to recognize abuse, and some of them have come out of forced early marriages in pursuit of their life goals. They have challenged the social cultural norms in their community by openly speaking about sex, an issue considered taboo yet affecting many adolescents.
WP: What has been your experience on PulseWire?
Sophie: I learned about World Pulse during the 2008 AWID forum held in Cape Town. Since joining PulseWire, I have felt a sense of sisterhood support through this global network. As I struggled to start blogging, the community support has given me the confidence to encourage other young women to blog through the YWLI interactive website. PulseWire introduced blogging as something very simple that anyone can do, and this got me to start blogging. I have experienced PulseWire as a safe space where women share and learn from one another and, even though I have not met the people I connect with online, I already feel a connection with them in the issues we share. From reading journals of women who are sharing from their heart, I have gained a broader outlook of women’s global issues. I have developed more confidence in my ability to write and share what I write. The realization of the power of Web 2.0 has encouraged me to feel that the issues I experience in my community need to be heard far and wide.
WP: What is your dream for the future?
Sophie: My dream is to publish a book! I believe that one day I will. When I do, I’ll be sure that PulseWire will know about it.