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Challenges turned into Opportunities

Women can now change a tire, sell newspapers on the streets or even drive public buses! These are some of my selected gender benders that put a smile on my face when I walk down the streets of Nairobi, Kenya! Stereotypes have been broken and women are staying ahead of the curve, to make a difference in the community.

Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya with poor infrastructure that affects the economic livelihood of the community. These conditions are catalysts for alcohol and substance abuse, which are contributing factors to sexual violence against women from age 6 years to over 45 years. Young and older women are forced into exchanging sex and prostituting children for basic resources. Most survivors that are raped are infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

During one of the young women small group sessions, they shared their challenges that create a barrier for me to change my community. Gender based stereotyping and discrimination continues to affect educational attainment and in employment many of the young women do not receive salaries for work that is equal to the male workmates. This does not lay a foundation for job opportunities hence making us depend on our male colleagues. All this creates a low self esteem that also hinders commitment to change.

“My mother forced me to be married to an older man so that my brother can go to school. I am now with two under 5 years old children, surviving with about less than a dollar a day. He beats me up everyday saying that he is spending a lot of money for my brother’s education. I’ve got nowhere to run, plus, he provides my children with shelter”. A 17 years old young mother shared, during the first book club meeting.

This is the reason why we chose to come up with a ‘book club’ that will creatively take a peer to peer approach that creates trustful environment which allows open discussions. The activities are fun and simple! It starts with reading and writing a personal ‘Hero Book’ with short notes on how the book has influence you and lastly, to participate in a book driven discussion. The group of 15 young women also started a merry-go- round, savings culture model.

To be able to reach this group efficiently; psychosocial, economic empowerment, medical and legal support needs to be in place. Inside the group directory I met ‘WorldPulse online book club’ and I have started a discussion on how to run and sustain a book club. From ‘Featured Projects’, the girls are interested to network with other projects that deal with young women on economic empowerment. I navigated in the ‘Resource Exchange’ where trainings and books support can be requested. We are working on how the 15 young women can start raising their voices and open up a journal for the book club. By this, members will be able to hear from other heroes in PulseWire that speak volumes.


aimeeknight's picture

I smiled at 'gender bender'.

I smiled at 'gender bender'. Great story and good work!

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Jacky Kowa's picture


Thanks Aimee! Do you have any 'gender benders' in your community? I am sure my community is not alone in gender stereotyping.



aimeeknight's picture

I think changing a tire is

I think changing a tire is universal! :) And then my career field would be another..I can relate.

"One shoe can change a life" ~ Cinderella

Eliana's picture

Thank you, Jacky, You are

Thank you, Jacky,
You are doing a great job! I find the book-project a very good idea and approach to talk about themselves and to share experiences in a protected environment. We did a similar thing to let women talk about their migration experience from their home countries to Italy and we let them talk about their dreams, wishes and whatever came up during the sessions.
Thank you. By the way, what books are you dealing with now?
It just came to my mind: would it be useful for you and your community to do a similar experiment as I did with my name in the assignment of week 2?

Peace to you and your community


Jacky Kowa's picture

Thanks Eliana for your

Thanks Eliana for your valuable comments!

This will help the young women have fruitful discussions. Everyone has aspirations or dreams and it will be crucial to listen to each one of use, during the dicussions.

The young women meet twice a month for about 3 hours, to dicuss a particular book. So, around one or two books per month. We just finished reading 'The Dot' by Peter Reynolds. It feels like a baby book being that it is easy to read with pictures and about 15 pages? But each sentence is very enlightening and triggers attitude change. The lesser pages the better but they are working on how to encourage fast reading. Inspirational books on how women overcame hurdles in life and those that talk about the difference that one can make in life. e.g. The Alchemist (All Paulo Coelho books), ooh the places you'll go and Tipping point. Your ideas on more books will be great!

My current worry is that the discussions might create a demand for a service that is not Affordable,accessible or available. for example, reproductive health services. All that each of us have to give is, a listening ear and asking questions that will lead to making that commitment to act!

I love this discussion! Thanks for sharing and support to make the book club fruitful.



Eliana's picture

Dear Jacky, You are right.

Dear Jacky,
You are right. You start with the book club meeting but you don't know yet where it will exactly lead you to. It's interesting but scaring on the other hand. It is not important, how many pages a book has, but the content and effect it has on women. If you need Paulo Coelho books I have several at home and by need I can send them to you:
* The Witch of Portobello
* Brida
* The Valchiries.

If you have other proposals on readings in English, let me know. In the meantime, I will go through my personal library and see what I can find there that could meet your interests.

Thank you for your journal entry and for the empowering and inspiring work you do for your community
Peace to you


Jacky Kowa's picture

Awesome support!


Thanks alot for the continued advice & resources. Paulo's books will be great to start with as the women expand their books preference. I'll be updating you on the list as we move on. We got 'The Witch of Portobello' already. I'll send you the address on where to send the rest.

Currently, the members are working on how to develop a 'memory book' journal and I am networking with other partners to complete our referral network for service provision.

Thanks for being part of this meaningful process Eliana. Let's see how effective this will be. I am very hopeful!



Valerie from Oregon's picture

Insightful and Inspiring!

Hello Jacky!
I'm one of the listeners for your Week Three assignment and I thought you did a good job talking about the challenges and barriers to creating social change in Nairobi. Apparently some progress has been made in breaking down gender stereotypes (loved your “gender bender” phrase!) but there is still much to be done. It must be very challenging working as a Sexual and Gender Based Violence Officer in a community where “alcohol and substance abuse are contributing factors to sexual violence against women.” You make an excellent point that women, lacking education and experiencing employment discrimination, suffer from “low self esteem that also hinders commitment to change.” The “book club” you have started sounds like a wonderful way to support young women by creating “a trustful environment which allows open discussions.” It’s great how you understand the power of the Pulsewire online community and are already tapping into the endless resources available there. Keep up the good work on your final VOF assignment!
Your Friend,

Jacky Kowa's picture

Talking ears!


Thanks for your inspiring comments too. All my life, I always imagine if all ears that we talk too in the community could say what they have heard. This way, it becomes my motivation in making a little difference in my community.

You got the 'book club' concept loud and clear! Creating a condusive environment for discussions is key to me, as I know this is when real issues will be discussed. So far, the sessions always remind me how important and powerful 'Listening' is. Thanks for listening! and giving feedback! I hope you bended some gender rules in your community!

'Asante sana ' is a swahili word for 'Thanks alot'. My gift to you is 'Asante sana! for uplifting my and many spirits and even when we finished our assignments, our pulse still lives on....



Jan K Askin's picture

VOF week 3 assignment

Dear Jacky,

Your first paragraph grabbed my attention. Then, in contrast to the changes you see, your description of the changes yet to come in Kiberia makes for an even greater attention grabber. I found this to be an effective technique for making your point. ell done!

Your sister in the US,

Jan Askin

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