In this month- during and after International Women’s Day, Hivos East Africa joins the rest of the world in shedding a spotlight on women who are rarely celebrated for their boldness and resilience in advocating for women’s rights in a patriarchal society. Through our iconic programmes, such as Women@Work and Voice, we give them a voice to promote women’s rights, together with a fair and just society for all.
These pathfinders have been bold in creating safe work spaces for women to end sexual harassment, advancing equal pay for women and promoting girls’ right to education.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme – #Pressforprogress – reflects the entire history of the struggle for women’s rights and equality.
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Appalled at how her own children struggled with their father (her husband) for respect within the family and permission to go to school, Kenyan Salantei Leburkash became in her words a “run-away mum” who only did what she thought was right. That was to ensure her children would get the best in life.
Now 62 years old, Salantei’s story began when as a young wife she took her two sons away from their father and built a ‘manyatta’ (enclosure or encampment) to give them a home. In a patriarchal community where women do not own land, this was a significant milestone. Salantei thus became a role model who would pave the way towards a better future for generations to come.
Her resolve was partly bolstered by the Samburu Women’s Trust, a Hivos East Africa partner she forged an alliance with to fight cultural practices within the Samburu tribe that subjugate women. Salantei also received training that helped her earn an income to provide for herself and her children.
In the end, she became a leader in her community. Salantei always stresses the importance of information and education to other women. She is an instrumental mentor to young girls and has formed women’s savings groups that make a living through beadwork.
Giving back to her community
As the founder and director of Msichana Initiative in Tanzania, Rebecca Gyumi considers herself the product of a community working together to help a girl advance to the very best of her ability.
Keen on fostering platforms that give a voice for girls to speak, she established ‘Msichana Kafez’, which uses a community-based approach to protect young girls from becoming brides.
The petition she filed in 2016 to challenge section 13 and 17 of the Tanzania Child Marriage Act, which allowed girls to marry at 14, resulted in a judgement moving the age to 18.
Further, she has steered her organization to establish 30 child protection teams in 3 districts.
The power of young domestic workers
Angela Benedicto knows too well the daily experiences of young domestic workers: underpaid, not valued and repeatedly abused – physically and sexually. Having been one herself at a young age, she resolved to bring an end to the impunity surrounding ill treatment of young domestic workers in Tanzania, where the legal working age is just 14.
So Angela started a community group, Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization, when she was only 17. This later became the Wote Sawa Organization to fight for the rights of domestic workers.
Recognized as a champion in her community, Angela has been able to put 500 young domestic workers back in school.
A voice for safe work spaces in Uganda’s Cut flower industry
Janepher Nassali began working as a picker on a flower farm, and by the age of 25 had become Secretary General of a workers union in Uganda.
Now 29, she is recognized as a powerful voice in Uganda’s Cut Flower Sector. Through the workers union ‘Uganda Horticulture industrial, Service Providers and Allied Workers Union’ (UHISPAWU), she defends, promotes and protects the rights of workers.
Janepher has created safe spaces for women workers by entrenching zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment at the farms. Her union has made significant progress in educating women on their rights, resulting in a 10 per cent increase in reporting of sexual harassment cases at flower farms.
Teenage pregnancy is not the end of the world
At 19, teenage mum Khadija has already become a beacon of hope within her community in Kibera by boldly advancing girls’ rights to education.
She got involved with Carolina for Kibera (an organization that develops local leaders to reduce poverty in Kibera’s slums) through a friend who recruited her as a volunteer mentor for teenage mothers.
Looking up to heroines like the late Wangari Maathai, she is inspired when girls question norms in their society and stand up for women’s equality on all fronts.
As a mentor at Carolina for Kibera, she has seen positive change in girls who have had a ‘second chance’ and go back to school after giving birth.