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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Born a feminist?

My friends and acquaintances all know that when there is a mention of women, gender, girls….my heart palpitate even more. Some have asked ask, why are you interested so much on women’s rights? Sometimes I just don’t have an answer, I just know, it can not be otherwise in anyway!! So why is my heart so there? Was I born a feminist or I just grew up to be one? And who is a feminist anyway? This is one term that women have really shied away from due to the negative connotation despite the fact that they are feminists to the core!

According to the Wikipedia encyclopaedia, “Feminism is a political discourse aimed at equal rights and legal protection for women. It involves various movements, theories, and philosophies, all concerned with issues of gender difference; that advocate equality for women; and that campaign for women's rights and interests”. With this definition, then feminist is the person committed to have this happen. To dismantle patriarchy and there is nothing apolitical about subjugation, it’s a political process and can only be dismantled in a political process.

The African Feminist Charter states that ‘We define and name ourselves publicly as Feminists because we celebrate our feminist identities and politics. We recognize that the work of fighting for women’s rights is deeply political, and the process of naming is political too. Choosing to name ourselves Feminist places us in a clear ideological position. By naming ourselves as Feminists we politicise the struggle for women’s rights, we question the legitimacy of the structures that keep women subjugated, and we develop tools for transformatory analysis and action’

Waoh, if that doest speak to me I don’t know what else would!! Even the US President, Barrack Obama declared himself a feminist in a T-shirt written ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ that is featured in the Ms. Magazine (http://www.msmagazine.com/winter2009)

So I’m a feminist? Of course! How did this happen? I may not answer that in one sentence, but many experiences through out my life have confirmed to me my conviction. I was born and brought up in a lucky family where the issues many girls face like being second fiddle to boys as far as access to education is concerned was not an issue. In fact my parents didn’t seem to distinguish boys and girls in many of the aspects including division of roles.

Going to school was the order of the day, and one of the things my dad old us was that one had to define their education path. He believed we can all make it hence he made is very clear that he was not going to sweet talk any school head if one failed the primary school exams but that whichever school one was admitted, one would go, money was not a problem! (At that time I believed my dad was a millionaire….school fees would be there! Now I know the struggles he went through to educate us). It didn’t matter if you were a girl or a boy, your marks spoke for you, in fact he believed that girls need to go to better boarding schools where they can get maximum benefit from the school.

He never listened to the village ‘advise’ ,like this neighbour who I remember vividly telling my dad there is no need to educate girls after all they would get married and go away! (Today this neighbour’s daughter is struggling as unemployed single mum with 2 kids no education, no job, not having gone past lower primary school education). My dad was so committed to education that at one time when my older 2 brothers and sister (RIP) were all in high school, and he was struggling to make ends meet and pay fees for all, there was a rumour that he had won a charity sweepstake scholarship! My mother who missed education in the colonial era and due to prevailing cultural barriers believed she would have done so well in school and hence believed in all of us, boys plus girls! I never felt the discrimination in the family.

However, the rest of the socialisation agents were not as supportive. Having grown and brought up in Mang’u a rural place in the then Kiambu District (about 40 km from Nairobi) the space was open for both girls and boys, but the social cultural attitudes especially in the schools were not always supportive. I remember feeling a sense of injustice for having to be treated as lesser just because I am a girl. I remember vividly when I was about 7 years old and in class 1 in primary school when we had prize giving for the best pupils. It was a special occasion since the District Officer (administrative officer was presiding on this occasion. Parents and other pupils were present so it was a big day as I waited for my prize having been top in my class. I even remember I had 396/400 marks, and as luck would have it so did a boy in the other class.

The prizes were given for the both streams combined so it meant we were tying at number 1 with this boy. Somehow the boy’s name (Mathias) came first….and so as I went for my prize I realised that the person reading out had (naturally) assumed I was second. This meant I wouldn’t get the cash prize that number 1s were getting!!! So, I spoke out ‘I am not number 2, I am also number 1’. There was some hilarious laugh as the Master of Ceremony repeated “the little girl (yes I was tiny) has said she is number 1” I didn’t think much of it (talk of a child’s innocence) apart from the attention it gav me “that girl”. As I think about it today, the MC must have assumed I was number 2 but anyhow, no harm, for the sake of this girl who thinks…. I made a promise to myself and that boy never defeated me again, let along a tie in same position for the rest of the primary school.

Fast forward when I was in class 7 (about 13 yrs) in the same school. We had a new class teacher (male) who was also new in the school. He declared that the current system of boys and girls washing the classes on alternate Fridays would no longer work. According to him ‘he had never seen boys wash classes’ so girls would wash through out!! The boys were exhilarated by the prospect of having Fridays free so that they can play!! I was not amused and despite the young age, I knew this was very unfair and unjust. Yes women’s subjugation is all about unfair, unjust treatment.

After some ‘consultations’ we decided that we were going to stage a strike! Yes at 13 yrs old and in that era….. We refused to wash the class when it was the boys turn and even though the teacher threatened us and demanded that we do that, we were not moved. He had to get us from the farthest side of the field where in solidarity we were playing together and after quite some argument the teacher gave in after caning us!!

Every day there are some unfair treatment of people due to the gender, sex, race, physical disability… you name them. Women are treated unfairly in different sectors, and patriarchy continues to stamp the authority on men and boys. I believe in God given rights and equality, right to be treated fairy, hence we all have to speak out and act where we can. For me, it is about women and girls. That is why my heart is, in the struggles and celebrations of women’s right.

Is it nature or nurture that I am feminist? Food for thought, but I am a feminist no ifs, no buts, no apologies for I believe the universe is not against women and will live for that. I love what I am, I love what I do. Are you a feminist?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Once again, who am I?

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." Mark Twain
The other day, as I reflected on this quote, I couldn’t help but wonder if sometimes the other way round is also true? Do people sometimes think much more of us that we really are? Or rather do people think more highly of me than I am? Or is it that I don’t take as much time in discovering myself?
Much as I might pride myself in self awareness, I still get shockers when people compliment me more than my expectations. What of last week when I friend who I had apparently mentored more than I actually thought wrote a one page thank you that moved me to tears? I had been encouraging this friend like for some time in different life issues but I didn’t know how much impact this had on him.
Other tiems I get shockers when I wonder if people are talking about me or someone else! Unfortunately this doesn’t come often as many people are not great at giving negative feedback….I am not good at it…
On the other hand I got discoveries into my own life that were rather revealing. Through a friend I got to hear about the Land mark forum and the great impact it has had on people’s lives. I was in a space where I was feeling quite discouraged in life, tired, fatigued….you name it and I felt this was something worth doing. As I walked to the exhibition hall of Sarit centre in Nairobi on the Friday 7th August 2009, I was expecting anther 20 or so people at the forum, only to find quite a swarm of people. By the time the forum started there were more than 200 or so people! As people got sharing about their lives issues it gave me more insight into my own life. It helped me discover myself in ways that I never had!!! This was refreshing.
From this forum it struck me that, yeah, I have to keep discovering myself each and every moment!! How exciting! I love the adventure that is my life that I am engaged in. The realization that I can be as great as I want to be is scaring, that I have a lot of work to do, then I realize, no need, just to relax and leave a moment at a time; for that is what life really is. I make many commitments to myself, and it is my responsibility to keep them.
So here I am, once again discovering who I am and enjoying every moment of it. Discovering also like Mark Twain said, I may not be able to change the people around me; actually nobody can, but I can change the people who surround me.
I am sure of one best friend, the one that has been here all the years of my life, and that is the person to please, to be honest with, to love – ME- Then the rest will sort itself out. This is the most challenging part, after all, I can not lie to this person!!!!
The great bonus is the people who believe in me, the people that I need to keep me close to as we grow together in this life of self discovery.