Naomi and Catherine afer an I Choose,My life Session

Kenya: Young Naomi Is Determined To Break Patriarchal Norms

Naomi Mumbi is a girl whose resilience, positive outlook and zest for life is inspiring especially to her peers. Naomi has decided, and is on her way to what she wants for herself, to be a woman of her dreams. To break patriarchal norms, break barriers put in place by society especially for women and girls, to surpass restrictions sanctioned by poverty and to inspire and provide her fellow girls with hope that leadership is a domain that girls and women can occupy.

Naomi is an 18 years old girl born in Kiambu, Kenya and a first born in a single-parent family. Naomi is the first girl from her former primary school, Kanjai primary school, to go to a National school and her record score in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education is still unbroken. Upon joining her secondary school, Nakuru Girls Secondary school, she assumed leadership various capacities. At first, she was a class prefect in her first two years and later was elected to become the dormitory senator in her 3rd year. This might sound like the usual conventional description of a girl attempting to stay ahead of her peers, but it is all in Naomi’s master plan to conquer the world and be a leader we can look up to.

Naomi who has now completed her secondary school education was a participant in Dandelion Kenya’s I Choose, My Life Program. The program is a comprehensive sexuality education program that trains young girls on personal development, youth leadership, gender, health and sexuality with a special focus on HIV. The program includes communication and leadership skills. This is what Naomi embodies, a leader in the face of a difficult period for any African girl; adolescence. This is a time when girls are prey to all manner of violations such as FGM, at risk of early child marriage, peer pressure and their self-esteem compromised by the negative social norms that reinforce harmful stereotypes about women and girls.

Despite her formal leadership capacities in being a prefect, it is this steady and consistency in leadership and excellence that makes Naomi a peer counselor. In her capacity as a peer counselor, Naomi is charged with the duty of mentoring fellow students in school. A duty Naomi executed so well that she became a beacon of hope for girls in her school. This led to the incubation of her unarguable leadership skills demonstrated in her responsible and articulate demeanor.

Naomi has a dream. She wants to join and has already made an application to the African Leadership Academy with an ultimate goal of joining the Kenyan political leadership landscape so that she can help eradicate poverty. Her goal is very much aligned with the world’s development agenda, where the first proposed sustainable development goal and the overarching issue identified within the post 2015 development agenda is to eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere. The development agenda under the mantra “leave no one behind”seeks to ensure that women , girls and youth are educated and capacity built to participate in leadership.

This leadership should be one that is built upon from the family, community, societal, national and extending to the global level. We are almost there but this will only happen through increased efforts in achieving gender equality. Ensuring that girls like Naomi are not prey to violence. Because lets face it, 1 in 3 girls will or have faced physical, sexual or psychological violence in her lifetime, statistics by UN Women. Lets not make Naomi a statistic of doom but a beacon of hope, one that speaks of an Africa that has seen Heads of state decree that Gender is their Agenda. One that has seen presidents like Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (where Naomi is From) and Kagame of Rwanda(a member of East African Community, for which Naomi is part of) enlist support for the HeForShe campaign, a campaign pegged on engaging men to end Violence Against Women.

Personally, seeing a girl achieve set out to be a leader at tender age is inspiring. Because our facts about this age are quite gloomy; as pointed out earlier it is an age where girls are at risk of FGM, early marriage, dying from child birth and unsafe abortions or predisposed to sexual violence. All this backed by facts from UN Agencies like UNFPA, UN Women, UNDP and other international organizations working towards the advancement of women and girls rights. Naomi’s aspiration and her present achievements are a true representation of what is possible if governments and communities invest in girls’ education.

Investing in girls’ education and keeping them in school has a ripple effect through which we will witness improved maternal health. In this wonderful world of; “what if the world put more resources towards girls education”, we ensure women give birth at a later age to a number of children they have decided themselves and are educated enough to compete for jobs and take good care of their children.

According to UNICEF(http://t.co/rsYntOUIz0); A child whose mother can read is 50%more likely to survive past age of 5. This ripple effect is realized through Naomi who organizes community programs in her church and former school to teach children aged 7-12 years about sexuality, leadership, health and HIV. Naomi also initiated the Voluntary Dining Hall Cleaning in her school to provide her fellow students with a chance and opportunity to volunteer and make a difference in their school. An example of a leader showing the way to her peers.

Naomi has started preparing herself for her future, her grades are on track and she has participated in leadership conferences offered by the Equity Bank; a local bank that has invested in education scholarships for poor students in Kenya She is not just about to follow her dream blindly but is nurturing herself to bring out the best in her. I am proud to be associated with girls who refuse to let the difficulties of today smudge the beauty and possibilities of tomorrow.

Compared to the unending negative narratives and we have heard of girls abducted from school, girls raped, married off and mutilated every day. I refuse to not tell this beautiful story of a girl who has taken charge of her life, identified her path and will stop at nothing.

Girls can lead and all we should do is create enabling environments, work towards deconstructing the negative norms, and support them with our family and national resources.

This year make girls count and ensure we hold their hands all the way to their dreams, even those dreams previously reserved for boys.

 

 

Catherine is a Mandela Fellow 2016, Women Deliver Young Leader and member of Youth RISE International working group. Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, and sits on the SDGs Kenya Forum coordination committee. Catherine has engaged with various global and regional policy processes such as ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 and the post 2015 development agenda. She co-authored the article ‘Leave No One Behind; Will African Women be left behind in the post 2015 development agenda ,an article published on the East African Business Monthly in February 2015. Catherine launched the #SRHRDialogues, an online advocacy and awareness raising platform on SRHR and #YAFDialogues, an online platform anticipated to be a permanent mobilizing platforms borne out of an African feminist dialogue 2015 in Accra. Follow her on Twitter: @catherinenyamb1

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