By MARY OJWANG
Top American actress Angelina Jolie once said: “There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free and educated woman and there is no more inspiring role model than a man who respects and cherishes women and champions their leadership.“
I am pleased to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, under the theme, ‘I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights’. This calls upon us, irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity or religion. to work together to tackle all the persistent barriers to gender equality.
The Women Students Mentorship Association (Woswa) traces its roots back to the University of Nairobi Women Students Association, which had been in existence since 1986. The association was later transformed into Woswa, an umbrella body, which champions the rights of female university students across Kenya.
Woswa is committed to the realisation of gender equality in the learning institutions, especially the universities. We have worked hard to create an enabling environment for studies for all the university female students through leadership training, mentorship programmes and capacity building.
Despite Kenya making great strides in the socio-economic empowerment of a majority of our citizens, some university students still face sexual and gender-based violence that threaten their health and well-being, education and social integration. The sad reality is that many university girls and women are victims of sexual exploitation and sexual violence, which end up ruining their lives and hampering their education. As result, the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which calls for gender equality and women’s empowerment, might not be achievable because they are impeded by such violence and discrimination.
To address some of these challenges, Woswa has come up with a programme to equip female students with the requisite information on relationships to protect them against becoming victims of sexual violence. We are committed to ensuring that girls are empowered as we try to eliminate discriminatory practices in our universities. These include early pregnancies, which tend to hinder many girls from achieving their goals.
I know we cannot achieve this alone. Woswa, therefore, urges everyone in the society to work with us to ensure that our girls have a safe haven as they pursue their studies in the various universities. Those who violate their rights should face the law for retribution.
Each one of us can help to create a gender-equal world by treating women with the dignity and respect they deserve. No woman deserves to suffer domestic or sexual violence, harmful cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), or any other forms of gender-based violence.
I am grateful to all the university staff, students and more so the men, for being a real motivation to women. We now know that there are men who can really stand by us in this camapign for gender equality.
Mary Ojwang, the patron of Woswa, spoke during the celebration of the International Women’s Day at Kabianga University on Sunday, 8th March 2020.