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© 2019 Opportunity International Education Finance functions under its US and UK affiliates. Opportunity International United Kingdom is registered as a charity in England and Wales (1107713) and in Scotland (SCO39692). Opportunity International United Statesis a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

#IWD: Celebrating Women Leaders in Education

By Opportunity EduFinance

There is still a lot of work to do towards ensuring women and girls have equal opportunities to achieve their full potential in low- and middle-income countries. From access to quality education to equal representation in government, advocates continue to work tirelessly to close the gender gap. Today, Opportunity EduFinance celebrates the campaigners, educators, and role models that have helped us come this far and keep us focused on working for the equal rights of women and girls globally. 

This Women’s Week, Opportunity EduFinance launched the Education Quality programme in Kenya with a strong and talented female team. Anne Njine and Violet Oketch join our programme, which already works with over 1,000 schools across 6 countries, as Education Specialists with a combined 25 years of experience driving change in the Kenyan education sector. 

Amidst the busyness of the launch of the new program, Renée McAlpin, Education Quality Africa Coordinator, paused to sit down with Anne and Violet to hear their views on the challenges women and girls face in Kenya, including access to quality education, and how they have personally worked to dismantle these barriers.

Anne Njine, Early Years Specialist

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

I think of the girl child and how far she has come, especially here in Kenya where she is more empowered. Different people are now standing up for the girl child. Recently I have been concerned about how girls miss school due to menstruation. Many girls are disadvantaged when giving birth, especially in rural areas. The first thousand days of a child’s life is very important for the health and wellbeing and it mostly depends on the woman. 

What do you think are the main challenges that women and girls face in 2019?

We must also think about the boy child to strike the balance. The boys must learn how to respect women. The boys need to not feel ashamed when more emphasis is placed on supporting the girl child. This should be a day to raise awareness that men should also be involved. Being a single parent, I see that men are oftentimes not involved. There is a perception that men and women have separate role – instead we must blend and find that balance to support each other. Being a mother of boys, I do not want to see them perpetuating poor practice. 

How important is it that young girls see women like you in leadership roles 

I currently volunteer to support adolescent girls in a juvenile detention centre. They don’t have female leader role models. Some of them come from the rural countryside where young girls are married at a very young age – this is tradition. Girls should be encouraged to do more, or at least know that there are other opportunities. It is humbling to know that girls can look up to me, starting at the classroom. I am able to help teachers mould young girls. I am in a position to empower others, which is a privilege that I hope to use to help others. 

 I want to professionalize the teaching profession. Most lower grader teachers are women. We need to find a way to support each other and make each other stronger and better. You will rarely hear a child say that they want to be a teacher. We need to be better role models from early on to be encouraging rather than discouraging.

Violet Akinyi Oketch, Teacher Training Specialist

 

What does International Women's Day mean to you?

It’s a very important day for all woman, especially professionals who have come a long way. We need to express ourselves and talk about our rights. In Kenya, there is still significant gender inequality – we still feel that we are not at the cutting edge where we need to be, despite the strides that have been made thus far. My mum really advocated for the girl child, and my education. My mum supported when I had an early pregnancy – she advocated for me to attend school. 

How can I support my community on this important day? I want to see all girls complete their high school education. In the education sector, I’ve given girls empowerment talks in schools to encourage girls that the environment they are in doesn’t matter, everyone is destined for greatness. All my life I have been a life skills mentor in informal settlements. I would like the teachers to think about a safe environment for girls, especially the toilets. School toilets are not conducive to girls’ health and respect – I will always sit down with school directors to advocate for this change.

What do you think are the main challenges that women and girls face in 2019?

We still have a major challenge of girl drop out and retention. It’s a shame that we are still struggling with girls receiving a quality education. I feel this is such an important area that we are still unable to manage. There are also cultural limitations, such as early marriage and female genital mutilation, which is not only a rural issue, but also urban. Recently there have been many cases of femicide and women dying of depression. There is also the issue of domestic violence against women. Moreover, we are still not given equality or a voice in the central government, where we need more female representation. We are still far away from seeing strong leadership role everywhere.

How important is it that young girls see women like you in leadership roles?

I think that we become a bit selfish when we become professionals. We need to think about how we can support and empower other women and girls through mentorship, representing them and giving them a voice. If we work together as a team, we are stronger. Women in leadership are often not ready to support each other, unfortunately. 

For women to succeed, we must start from somewhere. The schools can play an important role in the success of girls. Their challenges at the school level can be addressed. Are the schools even celebrating girls on Women’s Day?

This International Women’s Day we reflect on both the opportunities and challenges that Anne and Violet have shared. There is clearly still work to do to ensure women and girls have the full breadth of opportunity to achieve their greatest potential in Kenya and worldwide. However, like our Education Quality team in Kenya, there are millions of inspiring individuals and organizations, women and men, girls and boys, coming together to tear down barriers to education access and equal opportunities in their communities, countries and globally. This InternationalWomen’s Day, we are proud to stand beside these inspiring individuals as we work together to tackle the global gender education gap. 

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