The world is celebrating International Women’s Day, a day set to recognize the contribution of women to the betterment of life in general; socially, economically, cultural, politically or otherwise.
While we celebrate, I believe this year’s theme – Pledge For Parity – serves as a good reminder that despite numerous achievements by and for women, progress has slowed in many places around the world.
There is a lot of glamour and pomp for women who are powerful and popular, or those that work with someone who can tweet, email, Facebook or WhatsApp about them. But what about the ordinary woman? Who celebrates her?
There is no doubt that women must feel safe and empowered to contribute to society. If their contribution is supported, there is proof everywhere that women are best placed to make the best decisions for themselves.
Women face numerous hurdles just to be. Therefore, instead of celebrating International Women’s Day because the world is, or just because of it, consider celebrating a woman near you. This year, let each one of us celebrate the mother, cleaner, house help, farmer, small businesswoman, mama mboga, etc.
Wakenya Canada is taking up the challenge
Every woman deserves the right and freedom to decide if/when/how many children she should have. For this I invite you to celebrate with me a woman who wishes to remain anonymous yet has tremendously contributed to strengthening women in the area of reproductive rights. For the sake of this piece, let’s call her the “contraceptives keeper” aka CK.
I met CK about 20 years ago in a rural area of Kenya I used to visit. She worked at the only community clinic around. Someone mentioned to me that CK had a passion for educating women how to feed their families healthily using locally available produce. I was intrigued and asked to sit in through one of her post-natal lessons. It was quite informal with only a few women in attendance and it was the start of my friendship with CK.
Eventually she had me over to her place to meet her family and it became routine for me to drop by whenever I could. Soon I started to notice that women came to visit her (at home) more than anyone else I knew. There were morning, lunchtime and evening drop-ins. Whenever someone came to visit, they would then head into another room for a few minutes then the visitor would leave. Initially, I assumed this was about women chamas (merry go rounds), but the hushed tones of their conversations left me a little confused. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked her about the visits.
The big reveal
After a long hesitation and having me swear with a Bible never to tell, she came clean. Her clinic and home had merged.
In this region modernization was slow and people were very traditional, their lives heavily guided by customs and religion. For most of them, God’s command through Adam & Eve to populate the earth was how they honoured God, literally. Women having what back then we called “staircase kids”. But these women were tired, sometimes overwhelmed and wanted a controlled number and gap between children. Some men of course wouldn’t hear of it.
It came to light during one of CK’s pre or ante-natal classes that many of the women were dealing with domestic abuse and severe beatings associated with contraceptive use. Woe unto some if their husband got wind that they were on birth control. As they were brainstorming for a solution, one woman suggested CK could store her contraceptives for her. By the end of that meeting, a local solution was found for a local problem. And so it was, CK dispensed contraceptive pills to women who marked and gave them right back to her for safekeeping. And so they called on her at home daily.
CK introduced me to one woman, a mother of three, who told of how her husband had spent an entire morning turning the house upside down looking for any hidden contraceptives.
I was a little naive and shocked to imagine that birth control for spacing and family size could be something that a husband, most of whom were struggling to take care of their families anyway, would object to. Simultaneously, I was and still am filled with admiration for CK, who dared risk the wrath of those husbands to help other womenfolk make a simple decision regarding their own lives, health and well-being.
So on this #IWD2016, here is to a sisters’ keeper, my Shero CK!
Let today be a day you acknowledge, recognize, honour and celebrate all women in your life, especially those whose achievements are known little to anyone outside their circle! Remember the fight is for parity/equality not superiority. Give the same opportunities to women as men and watch what we can do.
~By Essie Wambui (twitter @westesita)