I Am Enough
Observing the lives of women in my community as I was growing up always left me with a deep sadness and many questions unanswered. These questions were so many they crowded my head like a swarm of bees – following me where ever I went. Why is life like this for women? How can society move on as if treating half the population of a nation like slaves is okay? Why do women take it lying down? How can one accept a life of domestic violence? How can women continue living without space for speaking for themselves? Where will change come from?
The largest percentage of women in my country get HIV/AIDS from their husbands – death is served them on a platter in their own homes – the place where one is expected to be most safe and protected. Women and their children are neglected by their husbands and women struggle to make ends meet amidst the most challenging conditions any human being has to undergo. Women endure physical and psychological violence in their homes. Sexual violence is increasing and spreading like wild fire in my country. And no one speaks about these things.
My mother always woke up at 4.30am every morning and was the last one to go to sleep. When I was growing up, many women spent their days tilling the land and on weekends, spent the days in the forest fetching firewood. Everyday, water had to be fetched, food cooked, land and children taken care of – and only women did these jobs. Of course the children came in handy to help make their mother’s loads lighter. Men spent time socializing and drinking. Young men and boys were always free to do what they liked. I wanted to be a man. I started reading books to help me think like a man. However, very quickly I realized that I did not want to be a man. I wanted to be a woman who lived a life without societal and traditional chains. I wanted to have equal rights with men. I wanted a level playing ground for all of us – boys and girls. But how does one ever do that? Education. Education is the one vaccine that will free women from cultural bondage. Education is the husband who will never desert a woman. Education opens the way for reclaiming a woman’s potential for self, family and community. However, even with education, a nation needs certain policies, legal frameworks and the political will to empower women. When a woman realizes she is ENOUGH to change what is not working in her life, opportunities become limitless!!!
The core problem facing Kenya today, related to poverty, disease and lack of development, is the exclusion of a large population from accessing means and engaging decisions that would transform their lives - Education, Enterprise, and Empowerment (the 3 E’s). Lack of the 3 Es generally leads to exclusion from processes of empowerment because women have no knowledge about issues surrounding their circumstances. All manner of myths are attributed to causes of poverty, disease and violence – aspects that affect women and children differently from men. Women are made to believe that to be poor is okay for religious reasons. Women believe that HIV/AIDS is a curse that affects bad people. Women believe that men who do not beat them do not love them. Specifically, however, lack of the Education disenfranchises an individual overall, and among other things, leads to lack of jobs and other income generating opportunities, which means one cannot afford to meet their basic needs. This in turn leads to lack of Empowerment, where empowerment refers to the ability of a person to take control of their lives and attain self-reliance. Empowerment is about a woman KNOWING she is ENOUGH to attain whatever goals she sets for herself.
Kenyan women remain largely excluded from peace and security processes despite their efforts in preserving social order and educating for peace at the grassroots; lobbying and advocacy for the equitable distribution of resources at the national level and despite international policies which explicitly call for women’s involvement in decision making at national and international levels. This marginalization hinders efforts to build sustainable peace and stable communities in Kenya. Moreover, when women are excluded, the differential impact of the decisions on men and women is not fully understood, women’s rights are not overtly addressed while their recommendations are excluded from final agreements.
Although Kenya ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, it has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW or the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). Kenya has been known for a government that has continued violations of women’s rights: the persistence of discriminatory laws and traditional harmful practices, in particular in the area of the family; violence; obstacles to access to education; female genital mutilation; under-representation in political life; and obstacles to access to property and health services. There have been delays in adoption of legislation that eliminates discrimination and protects women’s human rights. Bills pending before parliament include: the Family Protection Bill 2007, the Marriage Bill 2008, the Domestic Violence Bill 1999, the Matrimonial Property Bill 2008, the Equal Opportunities Bill 2008 and the Affirmative Action Bill 2000. With a parliament with 12% women representation, it is easy to see that a tough fight has to be fought to have parliament pass these bills.
In August 2010, 71 percent of Kenyans voted in favor of a new constitution. Signed into law by President Mwai Kibaki on August 27, 2010, the constitution provides for greater civil liberties and enshrines key economic and social rights. It advances the status of women in Kenyan society by according them equal rights in private and public life. However, in the light of the entrenched social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights, many women look at the constitution as just another thing the government is doing to look good. How will the constitution help the country end impunity of its leaders? How will the constitution help women really attain equity as citizens of Kenya? How will the constitution end poverty, violence and all those other problems women are facing in their lives. Indeed, how will the constitution help end suffocating patriarchy in our society? Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families. Widows and orphans in Kenya are facing serious challenges with regard to land that is left after their husbands/fathers die.
Widows and orphans lack basic needs because they are poor. Widows in rural areas in particular and children in crisis (AIDS orphans and vulnerable children) have no education, hence cannot secure well-paying jobs or successfully engage any income generating activities (enterprise), cannot afford housing, end up on the streets and slums, become beggars, and their children become street urchins; so the cycle of deprivation continues (lack empowerment). The condition and situation of these people and in particular women and children in crisis in Kenya today, manifests absence of social empowerment.
When I grew up, I promised myself that I would read until I completed all education – at that time I did not realize that one can never complete education. My inner knowing was leading me to a concept I now call – recognizing I am ENOUGH. This means, as a woman KNOWING I am endowed with all I need to become whoever I need to be to become the source of change in myself and my community. Today I am proud that I have several degrees and I am using the skills I got from that education to enhance the life of women and children in my country. I started a non-governmental organization (NGO) known as International Peace Initiatives (IPI: www.ipeacei.org). I started this organization to support poor women, women living with HIV/AIDS and children in crisis (orphans and vulnerable children) to create ways to overcome their economic challenges and for children to access education. IPI’s goal has been to look for innovative and creative ways to engage these people to enable them break the chains of disempowerment. I address two approaches IPI has used to empower women and children as examples of interventions that I believe bring a new way of looking at empowerment of marginalized and vulnerable people in our communities.
As I worked with women through IPI, I came to realize that women do not have faith in their capabilities. Indeed, they have no idea of their potential and the possibilities available to them. I started a program to educate them on their rights and how they can support one another in groups. We started what we called circles of ten, where women met in groups of ten and did bead work. They would also do other things they were interested in to create income for themselves. Most of those able to lead these groups were the more educated women like teachers. Unfortunately, these women would steal the groups’ money or con the poor women in other ways. So I started thinking of ways to directly empower the women themselves so that they could run their own projects. This approach has worked well. Poor women get very excited when they realize they are leaders.
The second program I started is one for children in crisis. Amani Children’s Homes (ACHs) are a practical strategy for care of AIDS Orphans and other vulnerable children (OVCs). The strategy is participatory and empowering in that the recipient is called upon to participate in her/his liberation from the challenges she/he is facing. This approach was born from the concern that most care programs for OVCs are based on a welfare approach. A welfare approach basically gives full support to a child without asking for any responsibility on the part of the beneficiary. It is a free handout that causes the recipient to depend on the donor/caregiver/benefactor. The approach International Peace Initiatives (IPI) proposes moves the children from a dependency syndrome mode to a state of taking responsibility for freeing themselves from the challenges facing them through participating in their liberation, thus taking charge of their lives.
IPI’s strategy for OVCs care is based on what we call the 3 Es: Education, Enterprise and Empowerment. We believe that these three elements provide a holistic approach to providing the life skills that each individual child needs for development. Education provides the information that enables the child to get knowledge for understanding their condition. This understanding enables the child to harness skills needed to build an enterprise or enterprises that enable the child to free themselves from poverty. The enterprise provides empowerment that enables the child to create a sustainable response to the challenges of attaining self-reliance. In fact, ACHs, not only keep kids in school and foster self respect and self-reliance, they also are self-sustaining as entities. In the end, ACHs are demonstration centers for the entire community and exhibit what promoting and living by the 3-E’s looks like. The ACHs model is a participatory and transformative approach for/of both individuals and communities.
Now that I live and work in Kenya, I have joined hands with others in the country to create a National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325 so that women’s voices can be heard and their contribution to decision-making and peacebuilding is entrenched in our policy making mechanisms. I have also joined the World Pulse Citizen Journalism program to give me skills to share our stories and to move out of the abyss of silence society and we ourselves have imposed on women. Women’s contributions are unique, collaborative, inclusive, and embedded in compassionate responding to another. When I, as a woman recognized I am ENOUGH, I am UNSTOPPABLE!!
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard from corners of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Frontline Journals.