Featured Storyteller

KENYA: Ambitious Young Women Won’t Be Stopped

yvoneakoth
Posted December 13, 2018 from Kenya

Yvonne Akoth asks why a generation of women raised on girls' empowerment messages is suffering so much violence.

“Perhaps young men don’t feel empowered enough to handle today’s modern young woman.

When I first heard Teairra Mari sing the words “I got myself a sponsor,”  it made me think of a woman going after what she wants irrespective of society’s beliefs and norms. I identified with the beautiful lyrics, melodious tune, and ecstatic rhythm. This song, Sponsor, was my favorite throughout 2010.

Little did I know, eight years down the line, I would see “sponsor culture” become a glorified phenomenon in my community. It is now common for older, powerful men to offer money, luxuries, and material things to ambitious young women to support their lifestyle. Transactional sex is often involved in this exchange. I see many millennial women, who feel they have the universe in the palm of their hand, get preyed upon by their so-called “sponsors.”  

I grew up in a patriarchal society where the low socio-economic status of women impeded their development and significantly reduced their chances of success. I also grew up at a time when girl child empowerment programs were flourishing through financial, psychological, and intellectual investment and support. There was a focus on providing opportunities for us to develop our fullest potential.

Like many girls of my generation, I was determined to change the status quo for women in Kenya. We in the “girl child” generation decided enough was enough. We were going to overcome obstacles that generations before us were unable to overcome.

In the 2000s, there was an awakening period for women. We were inspired by successful women, from Oprah Winfrey to Beyoncé Knowles, who had it all. The advent of the Internet and Kenya’s technological revolution exposed us to the lives of reality TV stars like Kim Kardashian. Many young women all over the world were attracted to this urban culture and the modern trappings of a glamorous life. Young women in Kenya would not be left behind.

Today, this vibrant, determined, and unbowed generation of young women who have benefited from years of investment in the girl child is coming into the limelight. Young women below 30 years of age are often referred to as “Slay Queens.” This new generation is challenging society’s cultural norms. They are smart, know their worth, and are able to negotiate their way to anything.

While young women in Kenya are increasingly attracted to the lifestyle of reality stars, the true life of these stars behind the scenes is rarely shown. In the last five years, there have been many high profile cases of wealthy, young women living a glamorous life who have lost their lives under mysterious circumstances. Many were sexually abused and then murdered.

As more women go after what they want, making their own decisions about their lives, they are increasingly exposed to harm. Empowered and ambitious young women are seen as a challenge to Kenya’s asymmetrical power dynamics.

This emerging situation is a new security threat to the life of a young and determined go-getter type of woman. This disturbs me because I am that go-getter woman. I relate to the woman dazzled by modern pop culture, the woman who is passionate about life and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve greatness and success. I see myself in the woman who is forced by life’s challenges to take the opportunities that come her way.

I was privileged enough to have a strict mother who didn’t believe in shortcuts. I have chosen a more difficult path to long-term success instead of seeking short-term opportunities from powerful men. But the reality is that while we may not all agree with “sponsor culture,” all girls and young women need to be protected from all forms of violence. All women have a right to life.

Some people respond to the violence against young women in Kenya by asking whether young women are becoming too self-aware and ambitious for their own good. Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe young men don’t feel empowered enough to handle today’s modern young woman.

As a peace advocate, I am inspired by the quote from American tennis player Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

There is an urgent need for a conversation to address Kenya’s patriarchal culture. We must create awareness and champion an end to the violence targeted at Kenya’s ambitious young women. I believe that security experts and practitioners can address this from a policy perspective by developing peace interventions that complement today’s urban culture.

After all is said and done, we need to create a safe future for our sisters and daughters, who will inherit our determination to be the best that they can be.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 21

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yvoneakoth
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

I am so honored to have my story published as part of the 'Future of Security is Women'. I hope it encourages us to work towards making the world safer for women, and working towards a violence free society.

Jill Langhus
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

Hi Yvone,

Big congrats on winning the story award!!! I hope your story and voice makes a difference toward a safer world as well, especially for girls and women.

yvoneakoth
Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

Thank you so much Jlanghus!. I appreciate your kind words.

Jill Langhus
Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

You're very welcome, dear:-) Hope you have a great day and celebration!

Bettina Amendi
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

Congratulations Yvonne,you are my hero.

yvoneakoth
Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

Thank you Bettina! You are my hero as well.

Bettina Amendi
Dec 16, 2018
Dec 16, 2018

Thank you for following me.You encouraged me.When you have time probably after the festive season,kindly pass by our office for a chat.My email,bettina@womanshope.org
Till then,
Bettina

yvoneakoth
Dec 17, 2018
Dec 17, 2018

You are welcome Bettina. I will drop by your office for a chat. Keep up the good work as well.

Ngwa Damaris
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

I can’t stop smiling reading through the end of your story. Life for women will never be the same again:) Congratulations on your award and thanks for sharing your story

yvoneakoth
Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

Thank you Damaris! I hope my story will help in transforming the lives of women and girls globally.

Sis. Salifu
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

Congrats dear :-)
Regards

yvoneakoth
Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

Thank you so much Lis!

Olutosin
Dec 14, 2018
Dec 14, 2018

Thank you very much for pointing out these salient observation.

yvoneakoth
Dec 15, 2018
Dec 15, 2018

You are welcome Olutosin. I hope to do more by speaking out on salient issues affecting women and girls.

Fosah Frinwie Loveline Muma
Dec 17, 2018
Dec 17, 2018

A big congratulations Yvone for your award.
We really need to create a safe future that can accommodate everyone.

Leonida Odongo
Dec 21, 2018
Dec 21, 2018

Great to bring this phenomenon to light Yvonne , it is ruining many Kenyans girls and young women.Hongera dada!

Deborah Munyekenye
Dec 29, 2018
Dec 29, 2018

congratulations for the award & the message

Millynairi
Jan 17
Jan 17

Congratulations dear

cecily_2
Jan 18
Jan 18

Dear Yvonne
Cecily Mwangi, wishes to Congratulate you for winning an a ward and for your story which contains powerful message for both girls and boys.

Emma KC
Jan 31
Jan 31

Hi. Came across your article through a recommendation. Loved your style of writing. What you wrote is inspiring and echoes not just for women of Kenya, but everywhere else. Thank you for being a voice.

uduakedet
Mar 10
Mar 10

Lovely piece