As Kenya heads to the polls, all eyes are on the country’s leaders and candidates. But behind the scenes, the country’s women grassroots organizers are working to make sure violence doesn’t break out in their communities.
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“Equality means that we’re all at the same table. It’s not just men versus women - we’re also talking about power imbalance and resource imbalance among women. In Kenya, only roughly 30% of women are educated and able to access resources. We can’t celebrate a success for women without counting grassroots women in.”
“Men are not happy when they see you becoming a very vocal leader, they start pulling you down. We need to keep on challenging the administration. When there’s a public forum [in the community] we request the chief that we’re given a chance to talk there so men who are against women becoming leaders are able to see that if your wife becomes a leader, the platform she is able to command.”
“I always describe [the importance of grassroots women] with a pyramid. You find the pyramid is wide at the base - these are the grassroots women. So if you remove the base, the pyramid is going to collapse. So women should be empowered, recognized, and their efforts should be enhanced and compensated, because they’re the people holding the base for all of us, for everything that we do.”
“Women are already leaders. It’s just women understanding themselves as leaders. It’s important for women to recognize the important role they’re playing in their communities as caretakers, as home managers, as church leaders. I encourage women to also go into political positions because this is where the real decisions are being made. As much as women are leaders at homes andmanagers in shops, unless they come to political position, the decisions about things women care about most will not be represented.”
“I’ve faced difficulties being a leader. I’m a widow. When I’m at a public forum, I will hear a man from the corner say, “You woman, why are you talking before us, a widow cannot say anything.” But I do feel powerful [as a leader] because when some men want to fight me, they see I’m in a group of women and these women, some are teachers, some are nurses, some are doctors and politicians. Sometimes they fear doing something bad to me becauseI have a group of women around me. Women working together is strength. When you work as a team, your voices are heard.”
“As a woman with HIV, I want politicians this election to recognize women, the girl child, children living with HIV and AIDS, and child-headed households.”
“This year for the 2017 election wehave preached a lot of peace and we expect that people are going to maintain peace. Normally politicians use the youth [to incite violence] but we have really empowered and educated the youth this time. We have to maintain peace for a better Kenya. Because the election is only one day, then it goes, but we have to live with each other continuously.”
“I admire [these grassroots women’s] resilience because I’m sure they do a lot of work that people discourage and that is not valued, especially in a monetary way. I admire them because they haven’t said, 'We’re not going to do this kind of work anymore - no one sees us, no one hears us.' They’re motivated from inside by their communities, they’re passionate about the issues, and they’re mobilizing.”