Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures!

| March 8, 2012

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures!

Mitchelle Osok (L) with Dr. Evans Kidero and members of the organization

As part of our celebrations here at Afrikan Goddess and in the spirit of keeping with the theme, I traveled to Kenya, to the University of Nairobi, to chat with the representative group for women students on campus. The Women Student Welfare Association (WOSWA) is the official mouthpiece for female students at the University, and is the driving force behind the success of  its female students. In an interview with Mitchelle Osok, the organization chairlady, she eloquently outlined the need for well-rounded, successful women in Kenya and beyond.  Read the interview below.

What is WOSWA?

The Women Student Welfare Association (WOSWA) is the official mouthpiece for the female students at the University of Nairobi. Our mission is to bring out the best in every woman in the University. Our principal objective is to ensure that members live comfortably while on campus and get the best opportunities that will assure them a bright future beyond campus.

Tell me about the history behind the organization

WOSWA has been in existence since the 1980’s and is registered under the Dean of Students’office. Its membership comprises all female students in the University of Nairobi and as such, it is the official mouthpiece and platform for its members. The association is administered by a group of 5 executive members and 16 Campus and Hall representatives who are all continuing students and who are elected annually. We have grown as an organization and now we have a patron and matron, Dr. Evans Kidero, MD Mumias Sugar Company Limited and Njoki Karuoya Associate Editor Standard Group respectively appointed from outside the University who have led us to the great success we experience today as an organization of young women leaders and are also the lead mentors under our mentorship programme ‘The Alpha Diva Fever’

What purpose does WOSWA serve?

Our mission is to bring out the best in every woman in the university and all over Kenya by educating and mentoring, and through capacity building. It s also to encourage every woman to realize that they play a major role in building the world and effecting change. WOSWA focuses on creating intensive knowledge on personal health issues, improving living conditions in the halls of residence, enhancing the plight of female students as well as promoting their image and self-esteem. WOSWA is there to bid on their achievements, boost their courage in aiming for top positions in society and promoting a peaceful coexistence among the students.

In what ways does WOSWA represent female students of the university – outside of just having a mission statement?

WOSWA is involved in the decision making process in the University especially where those affected will mostly be the female students. We ensure that any policies formulated and implemented do not affect the female students adversely. In terms of the social setting, we also ensure that female students are given fair treatment as the male students and amongst themselves such that no one feels victimized or undermined at the University. WOSWA handles isolated cases of rape, violence and sexual harassment of female students. We also interact with organizations in Kenya where we have interactive sessions that will allow them to take the opinions of the female students and create products or programs that will favor them. We also push for opportunities for the female students in terms of internships, scholarships and key leadership positions in the various student bodies at the University and beyond.

Describe what life is like for female students on campus. Would you say females have equal chances of success as their male counterparts?

Life for female students is the same as any other student. We are accorded the same treatment and our needs and wants are catered for as expected. However, we also face some challenges which are associated with our youth such as alcoholism and drugs. These vices cannot be linked to the campus administration but rather the company one keeps on and off campus. Female students work twice as hard as male students. Today with the new constitution and other supportive legislature that have created opportunities for women and the massive support from fellow women, we are empowered enough to milk those opportunities and succeed in life.

The new woman is an ‘Alpha Diva’ meaning she is assertive, goal oriented and a go-getter but she still maintains her femininity. This is because through education and mentorship we are able to integrate all aspects of our lives including career/profession, family and our hobbies or passions thus creating all rounded successful women.

How engaged are students with the organizaton after they graduate?

Unfortunately, WOSWA does not have a strong database with information on past officials and members. We are currently looking for means to sort this out and reach out to our alumni in various positions and capacities in the country particularly for mentorship purposes.

 

What role does WOSWA play in the lives of its members beyond graduation?

We believe the skills we impart through our various projects and programs will benefit our members throughout their lives. WOSWA continues to promote the development of assertive women in both the public and private sector and we continue to encourage young women even after graduation to shine in all they do, and to create a niche for themselves and subsequent generations of young women to come.

As chairlady of WOSWA, what is your major role and what are some of the challenges you face?

My major role has been the custodian of WOSWA. I must ensure that the WOSWA calendar of events runs as planned, we deliver on all the projects we are undertaking both internally and externally, and our partners and sponsors are pleased with our work thus they continue to support us. I must also ensure that the female students on campus are well represented and that their input on issues is heard and considered. It is also my responsibility to ensure that WOSWA maintains integrity, respect and leadership as its core values. I am the spokesperson in good and bad even when it stings. As a leader of leaders, it is not easy to integrate everyone’s opinion in decision making, thus I have had to disappoint a few people here and there. I have also had to fight for WOSWA’s space at the University and in other organizations. This has created friction at times but I have no apologies for doing the right thing especially for the students who are the electorate for they are the reason I hold this position. There are times we have been let down by individuals and sponsors and as chair it is very difficult to break the news to my colleagues. They look up to me to be strong and to make things better. There is a lot of pressure from all corners as the buck always starts and stops with the head of any organization.

Is WOSWA involved in any community events?

We work closely with the Standard Group/Eve Magazines in our mentorship programme. We mentor our younger sisters on campus and in high school and we provide an avenue to also look into the problems facing young women and to motivate and encourage them to rise above those obstacles and to lead purpose-driven lives. We are also in the Hope, Empowerment and Peace Initiative (HEPI) that seeks to engage the youth in productive and fruitful activities thus bringing them hope, empowerment and peace. WOSWA also partners with the Evans Kidero Centre whose patron Dr. Evans Kidero doubles as the WOSWA patron to promote talent among the youth. We focus on sports such as football and netball which are popular among the youth. We also organize community clean ups together.

What role does WOSWA play in the lives of its members to encourage their participation in politics?

We have just finished approving a work plan for the rest of our WOSWA term in office that will see us visiting all the campuses of the University of Nairobi and other Universities to encourage our fellow students to vote and to vote wisely. As the youth, we are not leaving anything to chance politically this time around. We shall not fall for the usual outrageous and empty promises from politicians. We need to see a plausible plan for the youth of Kenya. At the same time, we need more youthful faces taking up national leadership positions. We are trying to tackle the issues that prevent the youth from actively participating in politics by hearing from them and getting national leaders, experts and institutions aligned to civic education and development to address these issues. We also want to promote constitutionalism where each and every citizen of Kenya embraces the constitution, especially their rights, from a very early age. We shall continue to do this even after WOSWA because it is paramount that we effectively uphold the constitution if we want to progress as a country.

You have a female candidate (Martha Karua) running for the Kenyan presidency this year. What are your thoughts on that? What impact has her involvement had on the female student body?

It is inspiring to have a strong female candidate running for president. Her strength, aggression, confidence and consistency has made Hon. Martha Karua a great role model to WOSWA and other young women. She has shown us practically that we should always fight for what we believe in and strive to better ourselves and our country at large. Hon. Martha Karua is a personal friend and big sister to WOSWA and we truly admire her. She is a strong believer of the great potential that the young woman holds in terms of leadership, and she has been one of our greatest supporters. There is no sacrifice she would not make to see young women succeed in life and her caring and motherly attitude towards WOSWA and the youth proves this. She is determined to bring about real change and she believes that the youth, especially the young women, hold the key to that much needed change.

You have Reproductive Health Week coming up in March. What impact are you hoping it would have on those who attend?

The annual Reproductive Health Week is themed ‘Healthy Women, Healthy Nation’ We partner with health institutions and corporations to provide reproductive health services such as cervical and breast screening, family planning services and counseling and other services related to reproductive health. We try to educate young women on pertinent issues surrounding their health thus urging them to take charge of their lives and great futures by living healthy lives. Health is a huge investment that we must all make. Our objectives are, to increase knowledge and understanding among the students especially the linkage between reproductive health on one hand, and social power relations, life style, attitudes, traditions and behaviour on the other, to reduce misinformation and improve perceptions about peer group norms. We also seek to reduce the frequency of unprotected sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase the use of protection against pregnancy and STDs during sexual intercourse. We hope the students will develop and strengthen the skills they learn, and that they will use those skills to make better informed decisions.

How does WOSWA plan to celebrate International Women’s Day this year?

This year, we will be partnering with Standard Group/Eve Sisters to host a dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in celebration of International Women’s Day. The theme this year is ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures’, and we will model our celebrations around this them. We will take the time to celebrate great women who have taken the initiative to mentor young women and guide them to great futures. The Eve Sisters coordinated by Njoki Karuoya, who is the WOSWA matron, has been very instrumental in providing mentorship on campus and in urging us to mentor high school girls. We are happy to celebrate our mentors and supporters and to say ‘thank you’ for what they have done for us. They have connected us as young women and girls to lead inspiring futures.

Do you think International Women’s Day still needs to be celebrated today?

Absolutely! Women have come so far and it is important to take a day off in a year for celebration and thanksgiving. We are now educated, empowered, independent and assertive, thanks to our hard work and commitment to fight for ourselves and to have our voices heard. We are proud to be Kenyans, and proud to be women and we will ensure that as our mothers and big sisters pass on the leadership mantle, we are adequately prepared to carry on the fight with pride. International Women’s Day will forever remind us of where we have come from and where we are headed. We are not yet there; the best is still to come.

To learn more about WOSWA, visit http://woswa.kbo.co.ke, or visit them on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Women-Students-Welfare-AssociationWOSWA/140351556046610

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  1. NJUKI MBOGO says:

    LET US PRAY EARNESTLY FOR GOD’S PROVISION. WE NEED A DRAMATIC AND FAR SIGHTED LEADER IN KENYA