Sunday, November 12, 2006

dance my feet, carry me quick

It has been a brilliant year. In it I have been to 2 parts of Africa I never thought I would be going to. First it was YOWLI in Senegal and recently to meet the family of a very close friend in Mauritius.

And in each of the places it was beautiful to see how women saw and understood themselves. In Senegal some of the women fashioned their hairstyles extravagantly and darkened their lips with almost-black lipstick. They expressed their sexuality openly among other women and aggressiveness when need be, even with their male counterparts. They took care of their image as they defined it for themselves. I attended a wedding party in the street, a woman's only event where I found myself charged into a frenzy to dance by 8 drummers who sweated hard as they pounded into the drums.

In Mauritius, I saw what I thought India, the US and Kenya would look like if blended together. The families I came across were close. Here they valued dance too and friendship. And rum and wine. I danced sega in a sega outfit and danced with different women of different ages. Kissing each three times on the cheek to say hello and goodnight.

There is such diversity on this continent and I cannot wait to see where my great maker will take me the next time.

This is to the beautiful women from the beautiful continent.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

YOWLI we are.

In July this year, I was privileged to attend the Young Women's Leadership and Knowledge Institute (YOWLI) in Dakar, Senegal. The institute, which ran from the 23rd June 2006 to 23rd July 2006, brought together a new wave of activism. Here I met remarkable young women my age (18 - 33yrs), who were working in their little corners of the globe to make the changes that many societies will surely benefit from. The conference was organized through the African Women's Millennium Initiative on Poverty and Human Rights (AWOMI). It was the Director, Yassine Fall's dream to see women from all over Africa and the African Diaspora, come together to discuss issues like, poverty, GBV, and the economic policies that did not favor the societies we live in and the women who often go uncounted when it comes to GDP. There were also discussions on ICT, accountability and the use of the media to engage youth on the events of their changing world.

At the institute, there were young women from South Africa, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Brazil, Haiti, Morocco, and 18 other countries. Each woman brought her expertise and areas of focus whether it was in Law, GBV, Sports, and AIDS/HIV etc.
The taught sessions were led by Yassine Fall, an economist with the United Nations, Dr. Habib Sy, Executive Director, Aid Transparency and Assitan Diallo, a leading gender rights activist from Mali. There were visits to parts of Senegal that bore significance to the institute and the learning attained there. These visits included an area occupied by flood victims who remain ignored by the government despite international coverage on their plight.
YOWLI culminated in a conference from July 16th – 18th 2006, attended by representatives from UNEP, Ms. Esther Hewlett, Founder, Youth Philanthropy Worldwide, Hon. Phoebe Asiyo, a former Member of Parliament, Kenya, Amina Ibrahim, Special Advisor on MDGs to the President of Nigeria, Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland, Susan Nkomo, Women's Affairs, Government of South Africa, Barbara Charbonnet, Columbia University Earth Institute, among many other great leaders and role models.
For this year, the goal of the newly formed YOWLI regional branches is to seek and demand Accountability from the government, multinational corporations and local organizations. If the say they will do something, they have to make sure they will, furthermore, their actions should be to the benefit of the people they claim to represent and the same people they claim will benefit.

By the characters of the participants, much of Africa and the African Diaspora are about to be shaken by the determination of the women to make a change. Keep checking for more on YOWLI or if you have a burning desire to learn more about the movement email me at

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


As I promised in an earlier post, I would like to point to a new link to the DUSC blog (look on the right of this post) pending the creation of the actual website (I am actually looking for a volunteer who would like to be involved in this great team). Email me

Also, update on a couple of things. Dr. Kameri - Mbote is part of the Consititutional Review Process (a sign of hope!).
Does anyone know how I can get in touch with Njoki Ndungu...I am thinking a nationwide campaign to make rape the forefront of issues. My friend was recently thugged by robbers at her house. They raped her househelp claiming that she looked innocent.

I'm taking possible ideas on how to make more people aware of what a violation rape is.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

underground thunder

As I try to learn more about the country I call home, I have in the last couple of months come across movers who have remained "hidden" except to the circles they travel in. By this I mean that there are really some brilliant leaders, researchers and scholars out there who are making a name for Kenya even as corruption tries to nibble into its worth. One such researcher is
  • Patricia Kameri-Mbote

  • I recently had the priviledge of attending a talk she presented on Law, Gender and Land: Kenya. I learned alot about the structure of Kenya's laws and if I dare say so, she has a number of recommendations (see below) that suggest a solution to the inequality of land ownership for women. There are more like her the deeper I dig and from her I see a brilliance that will bring Kenya to great prosperity.

    Law Gender and Land: Kenya
    • Resilient Laws that make land ownership hard for women
    • Environmental degradation meaning that there is less land for cultivation
    • Only 1/3 of Kenya’s land is arable – competition to own land

    What has the Kenyan government done so far?
    • Attempts to review constitution to allow women access to title deeds
    • Land policy reform

    o Masculinity currently determines who gets power in terms of land rights
    o Access to land is possible but this is determined by the woman’s relationship to the male
    o The law is limited in ways of mediation to solve land dispute problems
    o Women have access to land but the decisions are still dependent on men
    - These decisions include land and land resources e.g. goats, cattle etc.
    o The women continue to work on the land however they don’t own the actual deed
    o Control: some women have this but they are the exception (control refers to decision making)
    o Ownership: statutory land laws identify the title holder as the owner, therefore the structure is in place to allow land ownership for the women however few women are aware f this
    o There is some land that is without title and this land ownership is then given to the person in control

    Land is a sign of wealth and an identity despite the land being unproductive and lying idle, hence a reluctance to leave rural areas to go to more productive areas

    Other factors of influence include: Age – elders
    Marital status

    Law creates entitlements to land control

    Kenya’s legal framework:
    Centralism: state machinery making all laws legal
    Pluralism: this is Kenya’s current system
    Tiered interactive normative system within which there are others legal systems in Kenya’s case these include – statutory, Muslim law, customary law, religious law.
    Semi-autonomous Law: family law
    International Law: CEDAW to protect women, however the law still has to be made national by parliament and this can take years
    Domestic Law: Constitutional law
    - Kenya currently has two constitutions, as there is an ongoing review of the old colonial constitution. The current constitution is considered and operative constitution and in it there is an entitlements to fundamental rights and protection from discrimination e.g. sex

    Other laws e.g. customary law makes it harder to implement this aspect of the constitution: in many ethnic groups one owns what they bring with them in marriage
    The spouse is required to show contribution to land development to show interest in land. This often goes unrecorded in the case where the labor is not paid because the women’s work on the farm is taken as her duty.

    • The pluralistic laws do not take the single women into considerations and instead consider the woman in transition. Through her marriage, she will gain access to land.
    • Children need protection from losing land they are entitled to. The effects of HIV/AIDS has meant that children are left orphaned and their parent’s land occupied by relatives. There is also less focus on land for food production when the attention is on caring for the sick. This keeps the poor further marginalized.

    Land tenure typologies:
    Individual/ private owned – protected by statutory law and provided under title deeds
    Government owned – given out of those in the government’s favor, women often left out of these deals because they are not as well connected
    Community owned – group ranches often among pastoralist communities, began in the 50’s in order to consolidate land
    - An example is the Rendille where the women have started conservancies with the permission of the chiefs. Here they build wells for easy water access.

    Upon death: Law of Succession takes into effect except among the Muslim community (1981).
    All dependents receive land with the woman being considered last
    Upon her death she may not pass the land on to anyone
    Should she remarry she forfeits all rights to the land – this is not the case when a widower remarries
    25% of land belongs to the spouse through the Law of Succession and the rest is divided among offspring

    Most women get around this by giving land to unmarried daughters as security.

    1. According to the speaker, the law is not the problem as land access dependant on relationship to male holder of the title deed
    2. There are too many laws and law institutions with overlapping areas of focus
    3. The law does not match the situation on the ground
    4. The laws are still applied in gendered contexts e.g. women are still considered as producer and not owners

    Changing Paradigms: Suggestions
    • Rather than create new laws we should work through the ones we have now
    • Educate people on their rights and the fact that they can take the cases to court
    • Creating test cases by using the courts
    • Tying land rights to land use: giving the title to whoever works on the land and uses it most
    • Taxing idle land
    • Social Engineering: education women
    • Community ownership through women owning land as part of women’s groups: increase the power through numbers

    1. Law has limitations, we should work around these
    2. There is too much focus on the married woman, what of the single woman, unmarried, widowed, separated or divorced?

    Sunday, March 05, 2006


    This entry though short is not one of lesser admiration for the work of a young man who together with a team of about 4 other managers are slowly building soccer for women in Kenya to international standards. The entry is a reflection that a feminist is not restricted to a particular category of certain sex organs but rather a true love and respect for women and their capabilities.

    Three of the women from Dagoretti United Sister's Club, DUSC have been called to play in the World Cup qualifying match against Nigeria this coming April. These girls, Esther Nandika, Agnes Ocholla, Mercy Odero are only a small representation of a larger circle of women who through their own love for the game have kept it alive on parched soil, with little soccer equipment and not much support from their fellow male soccer players.

    When the women began to win more and more games and collect sports equipment, the men began to say that the equipment really belonged to them. That women's soccer was nothing serious and their support for their male counterparts was in giving them the prizes they had worked so hard to win.

    There are no bounds to a woman's sacrifice.

    Congratulations to Esther, Agnes, Mercy and DUSC.

    "DUSC we love you 'coz you tisha!"

    More on DUSC, the young man and the DUSC management team later.

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    Shariffa Keshavjee

    As I was fixing the plumbing in the bathroom the other day, I remembered to thank Troop 564 of the Girl Scouts. I still have my "Miss Fix-It Badge" and thanks to it I can fix plumbing....along with a number of other cool tricks.

    Then I remembered Shariffa. She is an Honorary Associate of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) internationally
  • (based in England) and I was privileged to sit in on one of their monthly meetings in Kenya, under the Kenya Girl Guides Association. One of the things they discussed was a scholarship that they had managed to secure for a young lady from Kibera. They were having problems with getting her to come out of her comfort zone to pursue the opportunity before her.

    She needed to become a Kenya Girl Guide.

    Here is a picture of Shariffa (in light blue, bottom right) and the Shanzu Cadets.

    Later Shariffa and I visited Hawkers Market (across from Aga Khan University Hospital on Limuru Rd. in Nairobi) where she showed me the school that she is a founder member of. The school is called the "Hawkers Market Girl's Center" and it was began for the young women in the area. Earlier I had met Wamuyu Mahinda who is a Team Leader at the HMGC)
  • Wamuyu wins award

  • She also showed me a composite pile project that the girls had set up. It was one that had brought in money to support the school and the young women's education, many of whom are from a disadvantaged background.

    I met one of the young women who Shariffa was working closely with. She had been able to secure her a place as a masseuse at a yoga retreat center in Ukunda.
  • OM
  • (Yes I bet you didn't know we had such beauty...).
    Then I talked to another lady who had gone through the HMGC program and had got a job at a nearby hair salon. Mercy graduated from HMGC and now works at the Aga Khan Club. Through her salary, she has chosen to make a regular donation to the HMGC in order to help support the program that helped her.

    Shariffa lent me "The Alchemist" and we sat in her garden and talked.

    She is a founding member of the Friends of the Nairobi Aboretum, the group that has helped make jogging at the aboretum possible. There are benches to sit on and listen to the amazing birds sounds (no dolby surround needed). You can also learn the names of the rare trees.
  • FONA

  • I was in awe of her energy, her stories about growing up on the shores of Lake Victoria. She still remembers a few words in Luo.

    Activism is alive in Kenya in silent ways and if we look around, it's in the faces of our aunties, mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters.

    Thank you Shariffa for the inspirational time together.

    Shariffa is now the National Vice-Chairman for the Kenya Girl Guides Association (KGGA), having began as a Brownie in 1958, moving on to become a Girl Guide, a Girl Guide Leader, a WAGGGS representative to the UN, and a Commisioner for Projects at KGGA.