Our recent work with strengthening resilience in rural Kenya has brought to light an important issue on women’s empowerment: the lasting impact of colonial rule that continues to hinder women’s full leadership capacity and capabilities. This has forced us to take a step back and reexamine our approach to development in the community.
Despite the strong female leadership in the community, there is a strong need to please. Women of all ages, still struggle to challenge perceived figures of authority even when what is proposed may go against cultural norms or what they think is best for the community. They are driven by the constant need to say yes, and agree while inwardly saying no. Instead of standing up and speaking up, the tendency is for them to shut down. As an organization seeking to make a long lasting impact in the community, we have found this to be quite a challenge.
What is now considered a thing of the past, the effects of colonialism continue to be manifested in the lives of many women in rural Africa today. The fear of authority that was engrained as a means of control is holding women back, stifling their leadership, and diminishing their empowerment. The women do not fully reach or even realize their potential as they look to a perceived higher source of authority for the answers. Girls and women remain trapped in a veiled cycle of power and control.
While the community is responsible to a certain extent, visitors, NGOs, and the other international bodies have also created these expectations among communities. There is an unwritten expectation of compliance in return for funds, for assistance with development, and for scaling up opportunity. For organizations seeking a community-based approach to development, it is not easy to break the mold rooted in years of having a top-down approach.
When will it end?
When will we, as women, learn our worth and empower ourselves? The answer lies in the girls of today and the women who mentor them. As women and organizations dedicated to women’s empowerment, we must provide authentic opportunities for growth. We must teach our girls they have the power to achieve much more than they believe they are capable of and what world would have them believe. We fully accept the challenge to not only help empower women to fully realise their potential and demand they be heard. We also fully accept the challenge to ensure the girls of today are taught their worth and know the high value that their lives hold in the world. Please join us.
November 25th-December 10th we celebrate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. Part of prevention is working to break down years of strongholds which hinder women’s empowerment and leadership. Let’s work together to break post-colonialism barriers and how they impact young women and girls in Africa.