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Winifred fearlessly Empowers Young Women

We caught up with Winifred Buya Mukonzo, the Founder and Director of Empower HER Initiative. Empower Her Initiative is an initiative that mentors women and girls to become agents of social and economic change. It also provides a platform for GBV victims to share ideas on how to prevent and tackle it, teach entrepreneurial skills to women on campus as well as groom students for leadership posts.
In this interview. Buya Mukonzo answers questions about her life, work and passion.
  • Tell us about your initiative “Empower Her “ and the impact made so far?

Empower HER Initiative is an initiative that mentors women and girls to become agents of social and economic change. It was founded to challenge women and girls to do more. Since its inception, we have expanded our scope of reach to other counties such as Vihiga and Kisumu where we actively mentor the girl child.

It began in 2014 as Saidia Students Initiative but it rebranded to EmpowerHER Initiative when I became a student leader. I wanted to not only give help to the students but also give them power in various aspects of campus life.

What we do is that we provide a platform for Gender-Based Violence Victims (GBV) victims to meet and share ideas on how to prevent and tackle it. We also provide counselling to the victims in partnership with counselling department and the gender institute. We provide mentorship to school going girls around the University, train the women on campus by equipping them with hands-on entrepreneurial skills such as mat weaving, braiding hair and nail art so that they can have financial independence and make extra income for themselves.

There is also leadership training to groom those who wish to vie for student leadership posts. This we do in partnership with NGOs and the aim is to tremendously increase female representation in the elective student council positions.

The student mums program is a branch of the initiative that acts as a bridge between expectant students, student mothers and the administration. We work towards making sure that they are accommodated and comfortable on campus. We also pushing to provide daycare facilities for their children so that they are free to attend their classes. The idea is to enable them to strike a balance between being a student and pursuing their academic and career goals while still maintaining their responsibilities as mothers.

A woman should not have to choose between motherhood and studies: In case of pregnancy, let’s create an enabling environment for them to juggle the two.

  • What challenges have you encountered personally in the course of your project involvement and how did you resolve them?

The biggest challenge we face is getting funding for some of the programs within the initiative. Time is also a challenge as it can sometimes get demanding and hectic when you have to balance between the initiative and staying focused on your coursework.

There were the general challenges such as intimidations from rival coalitions. The campaigns would sometimes get violent because one party was intolerant of another party’s politics and this even led to the school being closed down for one month during the student campaigns in 2015. Things got out of hand and sadly, one student lost their life.

As a woman, I was often threatened and asked to back down from running because the male fraternity felt uncomfortable with me challenging the status quo. I would get booed during my rallies and the aggressors would chant my opponent’s name. At one point, I had to go back home when things got too much for me to handle but I came back and put up a spirited fight. I have a strong will and do not back down easily.

  • At what point did you know that you wanted to start up an initiative like this?

I easily identify challenges that people face, and I get bothered and automatically solutions start to flow. I think its a gift from God. You know for the short time I have lived I’ve learnt there’s no problem that doesn’t have a solution.

All through from nursery school, I have always been in leadership. I got exposed to many of the challenges that those around me faced and it always moved me to do something. When people trust you enough to confide in your their problems, you cannot just do nothing. You have to act on them and make things better in the best way that you know how. Even if the problem is a classmate of yours always losing a pen, which was always a major issue in primary and nursery school, you have to help because they may seem trivial to you but it’s a big issue to them and it is valid. I am a problem solver and solution giver, it is something so ingrained in me.

When I kept bumping on expectant students it stirred something In me, I felt they needed more attention than the rest of the students and it was important we listen to their stories.You know it is so human to judge and stop at it, but what there more we can do.

  • What particular event shaped the woman that you are today?

My turning point was an emerging leaders workshop organized by an NGO  ‘Akili Dada ‘ 😊 I had gone through some tough times ( as it sometimes happens to all of us ) and was almost losing it 😂 I learned about emotional intelligence and transformational leadership, and this has shaped my sense of leadership.

  • What other project or activities are you involved in?

Anything that focuses on the girl child, anytime.😊😊 I also volunteered for We speak code Kenya to teach coding skills to first-time computer users in remote areas.I currently work at Vivo Energy Kenya 💜 – Shell Licensee. I have also volunteered with Onward Kenya to reach out to the disabled and many different projects

  • What are the major hindrances to achieving SDG 5 in Kenya based on your experience?

There is this foolish mentality that SDG 5 is a fight against men which is not it, so there is this unnecessary resistance which is misinformed. Men and women alike need in-depth knowledge of what this Is about so that they can embrace it and we collectively champion for it.

  • Do you think we are doing enough as a continent to empower today’s women for leadership roles?

We are doing enough as a continent but there’s always room for improvement.  Apart from the boardrooms and media and paperwork, we need more people on the ground because that is where the solution is. Let us tackle this from a collective front, we need balance 😊 As others shape policies, others need to push for them, as others do grassroots campaigns and we have others strengthening the system.

  • What are your thoughts on the role of women in sustainable development in Africa?

We have more women in leadership than we used to.This is inspiring, the way has already been made , and the future is promising.But as we scale the heights let’s tag along with other women, we are their keepers.Invite them to that training, give them a platform to better themselves, mentor them , share opportunities with them

  • How did you feel running for a leadership position as a female and how has your gender influenced your decision-making and leadership style?

I enrolled in campus at the time of the student elections and I noticed that there were very few female contestants. When I asked about it, I was told that that was the trend and that very few women step up and run for office. I decided to campaign for the post of Organising Secretary for the year 2015/2016 in order to challenge my fellow students to do the same and to be testimony that women can do anything and succeed at it even in male dominated fields.

DI also wanted to redefine student leadership which had been marred by scandal and corruption over the years. Most elected leaders take up those positions for selfish reasons and make very little impact on the lives of those who elected them. I wanted my change that narrative by ensuring that my term was corruption and scandal free and full of profound impact and to lead with service and integrity.

I am proud to say that it was something I was able to achieve during my term.

  • Did your gender influence your leadership style ?

Yes .. I think as women we are compassionate, so my focus was majorly on projects that directly impact peoples lives. More so, for some reasons, I felt it was in order to scrap entertainment events to channel the cash to the kitty for bursary and basically think about the well-being of people , their food , security , work study and much more.  It gave me an advantage

  • What words do you have for aspiring leaders?

Be you. Do you, be the light and walk in it 💜

 

Adetutu Adefiranye
Yetunde Adefiranye is an avid reader and she enjoys celebrating women who are passionate about making a contribution towards sustainable development in Nigeria.