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International Women’s Day 2021 – breaking stereotypes

Today, 08 March, is International Women’s Day and this year, we are called to #ChooseToChallenge. This is yet another time to bring attention to women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. We are called to celebrate those that have come before us, and to challenge the current stereotypes and inequalities by playing our part and working for a more inclusive world for those who will come after us.

I was born and raised in Kenya, in a lovely rural town called Nakuru. As it is common in many societies around the world, there were subtle constructs in my society that suggested men and women were restricted to specific roles. Men were naturally leaders and women helpers. This translated to student leadership roles where boys naturally took up the prefect (lead) role, and girls took up the monitor (assistant) role to reinforce the social construct that was in place. So early on in primary school, and being a high performer, I was appointed a monitor (assistant) role. I had never seen a girl prefect before and so it never came to mind that girls could or should even be considered fit enough for prefect roles. That was until somehow, I found myself promoted from the monitor role to the first ever female prefect in that primary school. Although the role came with challenges of its own such as having to keep explaining why I was a prefect and sometimes my authority being taken for granted, I got a realisation: that it was indeed possible for either gender to take either leadership role.

In class five, I joined the girl guide association. We took part in many fun activities including holding food runs in disadvantaged communities, and organised social campaigns such as HIV/AIDS awareness, environmental conservation and even campaigned for equal rights for women and girls. I remember reciting poems and songs on women empowerment where we mentioned notable women who beat stereotypes and #ChoseToChallenge. We passionately mentioned Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-Former president of Liberia and Africa’s first ever elected female head of state; and Wangari Maathai- the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although being a girl guide was rewarding and we got to run exciting campaigns, we were limited to ‘safe’ activities and I envied the scouts (which in my school recruited only males) who got to do adventurous activities such as hiking and camping in the wild-activities that were socially reserved for males. When we sang about these great women breaking barriers, I envisioned myself, a female, joining the scouts. It is these women who chose to challenge stereotypes that inspired me on a cause to encourage girls to join the scouts’ team in my school. Although our efforts were unsuccessful in primary school, when I joined secondary school, I convinced the school administration to allow girls to join the scouts rather than the female equivalent (rangers). At that moment, it was such an achievement for me that I was seen as equal to my male counterparts and allowed to join a membership that was traditionally male. I felt one in solidarity with the millions of women fighting every day to challenge social, political, or cultural constructs which limit and deny women opportunities that could allow them to exercise their full potential.

Granted, we are better at gender equality than we were twenty years ago, but more is needed in the fight for gender parity. Just as the women before us inspired us to #ChooseToChallenge, we do our part to continue the cause, so that the women who will come after us do not have to fight the barriers we have faced, but will rise and soar, and occupy spaces that will ultimately improve the world for the better. It is important to mention that International Women’s Day and the fight to challenge gender inequality is not about the fall of men but rather the empowerment of women so that both men and women have equal opportunities and work together to be the best versions of themselves.

So, I call upon you today to join the movement, and to #ChooseToChallenge.

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