Celebrating Women

Fiona Ngarachu

Nairobi, Kenya - May 2007

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He was taught by his mother from an early age to always ask; “What is the right thing to do, and what is the smart thing to do?” when facing a difficult situation. A senior man today he has all the reason to celebrate women of the world.

On another hand is a mother, a woman who has successfully moulded her family giving her children all the love and support they ever needed to achieve their goals in life, in the process bringing up a famous sports personality. She too celebrates women of the world.

In between are young women and men who have been given an opportunity by their parents and society to live and excel in their endeavours.  They are shaping their futures now with confidence, strength and hope. They are clear that without grandmothers, mothers and sisters of the world there is no future.

Meet the Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya Ambassador Ross Hynes, Mrs. Deloris Jordan, basketball superstar Michael Jordan’s mother and our young men and women of Aga Khan High School and Starehe Girls School in Kenya respectively.

The Canadian High Commission in partnership with the Africa Women and Child Feature Services (AWC); a Nairobi-based media organization with an African regional outlook hosted a forum earlier this year in celebration of ‘International Women’s day’.  A global holiday that is celebrated every year on 8th March it is recognized as a United Nations Holiday.  The theme for this year is ‘Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.’

The theme of (AWC’s) forum is ‘Kenyan Women’s leaders of today and tomorrow’.  It featured thirty young girls from Starehe International School of Kenya; the Girl guides movement and various female personalities including Hon. Njoki Ndungu, Mrs. Jacinta Muteshi and Koki Muli. The approach was to provide the girls with an opportunity to interact with the female leaders of today as a means to help develop their potential in society. In the words of the High Commissioner, “to aspire and be inspired to be the future leaders of Kenya”.

Both Kenya and Canada have a lot to learn from each other in terms of Gender, while both governments recognize the importance of promoting equality there is still a lot to be done. All societies are evolving and there are many challenges that need to be addressed. A global gender report ranks Canada at 14 in the gender Gap and Kenya at 73, but at the end of the day we are all individuals.  It is up to us to think about the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

“If this forum is successful it will serve as a model for future activities.” says Ambassador Hynes.  This is a new approach for the High Commission but for the High Commissioner, dealing with gender issues is nothing new. Ambassador Hynes has a long established career as an activist and a Diplomat, having been posted to United Nations missions in Geneva and Canada and more importantly having been the lone male chair of a negotiating group at the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference where he presided over the negotiations of the Beijing Declaration.

Ambassador Hynes wants to bring out budding women of Kenya to mingle with more established ones in leadership in an attempt to shape them into better leaders in the future. “Every development programme that the Canadian High Commission is involved in is looked at through the lens of gender to ensure that women are involved.”

In his opinion it is Education, or rather the lack thereof that is the greatest hindrance to gender equality. “Education is most lacking in marginalized societies and governments have a lot to do to improve on that. Kenya has made important steps in this area with the introduction of free primary education.”

Mrs. Deloris Jordan is a woman for whom the word impossible does not feature in her vocabulary. Her love affair with Kenya started more than 10 years ago when she was part of an exchange programme that brought children and business men from America to Kenya. It was during this visit that she first toured the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. “I saw a lot of women sitting outside waiting and I asked one of the people there why they were outside and not getting treatment inside and she replied that there was no room for them.”

It was this situation that led her to invest her time and money, under the auspices of the James R. Jordan foundation to improve the facilities at the Hospital. She developed a very close relationship with Dr. Sam Thenya, the director of the hospital and this has culminated in the construction of a new modern not for profit facility at the City Council’s Lady Northey home. The facility will be renamed the Nairobi women’s and children’s hospital.  It will boast 350 beds and be equipped to fully service the needs of women, infants and children.

In the words of Mrs. Jordan, “Our goal is to come along side those in need and provide support and encouragement so that they will be able to be successful in life.” Her role in Kenya is to encourage partnerships to develop between the government and various local corporate organizations such as Coca Cola and Safaricom. For Mrs. Jordan “Good health is essential to any society’s economic success.  There is reason for even more hope with the development of the new Nairobi Women and Children’s Hospital.”

For Vivian, Emma, Rose, Lorna, Alice and Peninah, six young girls from the Starehe Girls centre, International Women’s day is a time for women to discuss what affects them, be it politics, violence or gender inequality. It is an occasion to express their feelings and a reminder of the importance of women in society. “We need to recognize women as the foundation of society” says Alice Wanjiru; a Form three student. For Emma, women are the cornerstone of society and have been undermined even though they have an important role to play.

For these young women there would be a positive change to be seen if women were empowered. There are certain differences that are inherent between men and women and it is these that would bring about the change. “Women are more empathetic and if they were involved in the decision making process there would be a lot less war and the gap between the rich and poor would decrease,” they say.

These young girls are clearly on the right track with career aspirations ranging from Information Technology to Chemical Engineering. Asked about how they would face the challenges of achieving their goals, they all responded, “Working hard, overcoming your fears and having an internal driving force.”

But even the men are not to be left behind. The students of Aga Khan high school recognize the importance of the women’s day in celebrating the achievements that women have made so far. “We should support our sisters when it comes to giving them equal opportunities to excel,” they say. But it is clear that the girls are giving them a run for their money as they have concerns over growing competition between men and women in the workplace.

As we mould future generations and look after the welfare of our women and children, there are more reasons to celebrate International Women’s Day.  Observing the day that is reserved exclusively for 51% of the Kenyan nation we can look back on the challenges that we as a country and society have overcome and look to the future with hope of a brighter day. So let us all mark International Women’s Day on our calendars as a day to celebrate!