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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Happy International Women’s Day

At a teary funeral service this week, three adult children bravely rose to publicly celebrate their very beloved mother. All Saints Cathedral was packed but you could have heard even the WIFI drop. I was moved several times by the experiences they shared possibly for the first time in public. It was the message “In life, we are not shaped by our experiences, but by the meanings we attach to those experiences” that moved me the most.

Death has a way of cutting through the clutter of life. I grew up in a blended family. My brother and sisters were born of parents from different relationships and we lived together as a single unit. Re-marriage and co-parenting after divorce, separation or loss makes this a growing phenomenon for many Kenyan families. If this is not complex enough, many of us were also brought up by generous aunts and uncles. My life has been touched by all these relationships.

Twenty-nine years after my biological mother died, my father transitioned in 2001. Four years later, I found myself apologizing to my “step-mother” (I don’t do “steps” but it will help some of you who do, to follow this story). It suddenly occurred to me in a transformative Landmark Forum that it took my father’s death for me to have an intentionally direct relationship with her.

My mother and father were happily married for twenty-five years. She built a profession for herself and a safe, disciplined and loving home for us. She continued to offer life advice even when our adolescence struggles to become independent teenagers made it difficult to hear her. Yet somehow I didn’t fully appreciate this until I was 31 years old, my dad had just died and I was a father myself. In that moment, my experiences took on new meaning.

This Wednesday, millions of women and men celebrate the social, economic and political achievements of women across the world. Several events are already being planned in Kenya. This year’s International Women’s Day theme #BeBoldForChange is intentionally personal and political. It offers us – men and women – new opportunities to create experiences that are meaningful for us.

Despite an unimaginable revolution of open data and information technology advances, millions of women and girls’ experiences remain unrecognized and invisible. At the current rate of progress, it will take 173 years more to achieve global gender equality. With a score of 0.7, Kenya ranks 63 out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality. We are doing very well in terms of access to health and education, but still doing poorly when it comes to creating opportunity for economic advancement and political representation. We need to do more to reach our constitutional ambition for gender equality.

Each of us could do no better this week than to sit down with a woman or a girl in our life who, in our opinion, remains under-recognized to date. Ask them to share a moment when they took a bold action, what motivated them, what difference they made and what others can learn from it. Do something unusual. If you are middle-class, talk with a domestic worker, an informal trader or the assistant in the office. If you are working-class or unemployed, talk with a woman manager, politician or a professor?

Lead your friends and colleagues in the spaces you are in to take a bold action and drive gender equality. How about taking a junior woman to a business meeting or challenging organizers of all-male speaking manels to stop this or educating boys about stereotypes and violence against women? Could you get your chaama, colleagues, friends and fellow students to donate time to a female-focused charity this week?

As always, everything is connected. Some of you regular readers may be wondering whether this column is slowly becoming women-centric. Take comfort in this thought. Invisibility and lack of voice corrodes our human spirit. Give up the comfort in all the current acquaintances you have. The possibilities of our lives are too big for the little relationships we tolerate and the experiences we block. Make every moment in your relationships personal and intentional. If we do this, we will be able to say goodbye to our loved ones, neighbors and fellow citizens when they transition with the completeness of a full relationship. Nothing left unsaid, unexplored or in the way.

Thank you Caroline for your life and your wise children. Let’s go create International Women’s Day all.

First published Sunday Standard, March 5, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 


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