Blazing a Trail to Leadership

A leader really has a task. You must be open, you must be a visionary and you must be very focused. Then you will be a leader.”

The media in Kenya has not historically been kind to women leaders. In an effort to right that, Women and Girls Lead-Kenya launched the “Women in the Red” radio show on Radio Maisha to highlight extraordinary women leaders who are blazing a path for future generations. “Women in the Red” is also the name of WGL-Kenya’s media campaign, which aims to cultivate and celebrate women leaders. It refers to the current deficit in women’s leadership in Kenya.

Recently, the  show put out a challenge to listeners – over one million Kenyans all over the country – to nominate women from their own communities for the Listener’s Choice Awards. Among the three finalists, Margaret Tawa of Nyakach – founder of the Nyalunya Development Community Based Organization, which supports orphans and vulnerable children by enrolling them in a kindergarten school that provides basic knowledge to enter public schools – was nominated and won by a landslide. Drawing on her wide network and strong community organizing skills, Margaret campaigned for herself among friends and colleagues on Facebook to bring home the win. We had a moment to speak with Margaret about her passion to increase support for women leaders in a brief interview prior to the awards announcement.

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Margaret Tawa

There are many challenges that come with the territory of being in a leadership role, such as tackling poverty, domestic violence against women or reducing school drop-outs. Margaret has encouraged women to come together and support one another by forming groups within their village.  Through this effort of inspiring women to unite, they are now able to submit applications for open opportunities as an assistant chief.

“Women are really responding and it is very nice. We have many women chiefs in Nyakach right now and even in many other places we are encouraging them” explained Margaret.

Margaret has a strong desire to be the best advocate for her community and has made the commitment to go back to school at the Kenya College of Accountancy and receive a degree in county governance and management. She explains this is not about a job or a salary, but to be an asset to her community.

“I want to give people a way forward. I want to give them advice…I want to be a role model,” she said.

It doesn’t stop there. In 2017, she plans to vie for the Member of the County Assembly position for Central Nyakach Ward. Margaret is confident about her chances of being elected, “Since I’m a member of the community, I know all the challenges, I know all the problems.”

Her win at the Listener’s Choice Awards has given her an automatic nomination in the Women in the Red Leadership Awards – a national contest that will honor the most remarkable women in Kenya. The goal of the contest is to move closer to realizing the ‘Kenyan Promise’ put forward by the 2/3 gender rule in the 2010 Constitution that aims to bring more women into leadership roles. This goal has yet to be met.

Check back later this month for updates on Margaret’s nomination!

Sufiya’s Dream

Sufiya

Sufiya Khutan, of Tala Upazila, Bangladesh, became a child bride when she was only 13. By 14, she had already become a mother. When her husband, the only earning member of the family, fell ill several years ago, Sufiya had to rise above dire financial hardship to provide for her daughter Selina’s education and give her a better and more secure future. Their dream? That Selina will become a doctor.

Villagers in Sufiya’s community have criticized her for spending money on her daughter’s education, and the family receives marriage proposals for Selina almost daily. Unable to support more than one child’s education, parents in Bangladesh often decide to educate their sons instead of their daughters, convinced that a son will be able to better provide for his family.

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WGLG Expands Reach in Peru Through Peace Corps Partnership

Third year Peace Corps Volunteer Emily McGinnis engages youth at a WGLG film and social media workshop

This year, Peace Corps Volunteers in Peru will bring a collection of powerful documentary films into communities across the country through a partnership with Women and Girls Lead Global (WGLG). WGLG uses film to help partners in five countries spark community dialogue on their most pressing gender equality issues. This is the first time WGLG will work with the Peace Corps, and the possibilities are as exciting and diverse as the Volunteers and the communities they serve. Volunteers from all sectors – whether youth development, business, health, water and sanitation, or environment – are encouraged to integrate gender equality measures into their projects. Part of a worldwide Peace Corps gender and development initiative, Peace Corps Peru’s Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment (GenEq) committee helps Volunteers find creative ways to do this. Continue reading

Salma

Internationally-acclaimed, multiple-award winning filmmaker Kim Longinotto (Rough Aunties, World Cinema Jury Prize in Documentary, Sundance 2009) returns with Salma — the extraordinary story of a woman who becomes the legendary activist, politician, poet, Salma.

For nine years, until she agreed to an arranged marriage, Salma was trapped first by her family and then again by her husband – physically locked away, unable to continue her education and forced to write her passionate words secretly. Only Salma’s anger and determination kept her focused on obtaining her freedom. When Salma’s visceral poems reached a publisher, their frank and open observations about her own sexuality, her forced marriage and her village’s customs made her an overnight sensation, much to the displeasure of her family and village. Pushed into running in an election as a village leader by her husband, Salma unexpectedly is elected and becomes the voice for women also imprisoned by the same fate. Her legendary refusal to follow traditional Muslim customs and her outspokenness about the treatment of village women secure her status as a true rebel in the face of an ancient and brutal tradition.

Crafted as a slowly unfolding detective story, Longinotto carefully peels past the layers of contradictions that define Salma — an engaged, contributing protagonist whose emerging voice loudly soars above the “knots and ties of love” used to imprison the female heart and soul.