First empowerment day for #RaiseHerVoice

First empowerment day for #RaiseHerVoice

As young girls in the UK, we are taught about self-esteem, menstruation, forms of abuse, STIs, relationships and even the difference between love and sex. This is through school, or by influential people around us, and we’re encouraged to feel comfortable discussing it. This is not reality in Kenya. Young girls are shy and more reserved, and are embarrassed to talk about these topics.

For this reason, here at Raise the Roof (RTR), we are running a new campaign, Raise Her Voice. It is designed to empower women and improve their self-esteem and awareness, while providing first-hand support. Working with young men and women, we understand the importance of a holistic approach and the need for this to be inclusive of men. We address this through simultaneous day programmes, working with young men and women, to address issues surrounding gender inequality.

We held our first empowerment day in our Barut Youth Development and Sports Centre. Girls from different stages of life attended; married ladies, those who hoped to marry soon and girls who are not looking for a relationship.

The relationships lesson had the same structure as one within a secondary school in the UK. The women were given 'pressure lines', which are lines used to coerce someone into sexual relations), such as "Don't you love me" and "Everyone else is doing it". They then worked out possible responses in order to relieve the pressure placed on them. While participants found this challenging, they were supported by course assistants, who helped them choose appropriate answers.

When it comes to HIV and STIs, generally the women understand what they are and were able to recite facts about these infections. However teachers found that the women weren’t able to apply these facts to their daily lives. This lesson gave them an opportunity to put textbook information into practice.

As with most teenage girls, the young women were shy when asked to speak about themselves. When they were asked to write about themselves in a positive light, they wrote phrases like, "I am quiet" and "I have a pure heart". As the discussion got deeper, the girls grew more confident and started writing expressions such as "I like my curves" and "I like that I can speak my mind".

Lessons on puberty and menstruation awed and surprised some of the girls, even those who are married. The largest issue with menstruation is the unavailability of sanitary products. These women are unable to afford what is available. Instead of using hygiene pads, women use old clothes and other homemade alternatives. These substitutes are substandard and for fear of embarrassment in front of their peers, they miss classes.

We learned a great deal at this empowerment class - both the girls attending and those overseeing the day. The young women were pushed out of their comfort zones and benefitted greatly from this. The women teaching the course now know more about the personalities of the girls and the issues they face. Raise her Voice will host many more days, like this one, so that we can continue to help provide empowerment, encourage self-esteem and provide a safe space for women to be open about all issues.

Follow us on twitter, facebook and instagram using #RaiseHerVoice.

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