YW4A Stories of Leadership: Azenath Okemwa’s Advocacy Journey

I am Azenath Okemwa, a Project Officer at The Centre for Community Mobilization and Empowerment (CECOME), a WRO implementing YW4A in Kisii County, Kenya. Under YW4A, I am a Young Women Reference Group member coordinating a pool of over 380 young women who have been/are in the FEMspaces. I have eight years of experience implementing projects on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, female genital mutilation, and now, innovation in banana food chain value addition.

Photo: Azenath Okemwa

My background is in Development Studies, Project Planning and Management, and Monitoring and Evaluation. 

From the experience gained from the YW4A initiative and other organisational projects that I have taken part in, I was awarded a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship on Gender and Sexuality competitively against 262 applicants from Commonwealth countries. The award is a fully funded fellowship by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK and I am being hosted by The University of Kent for three months. I am quite proud of this achievement as it portrays my passion and commitment to advocating for Gender equality. Through this opportunity, I hope to learn new technical skills, gain knowledge and establish networks beneficial to me and the programme upon my return.

My learnings in the YW4A programme have helped me develop my professional skill set. Specifically, Pathway 4 has come in quite handy before and during my fellowship. I have been on platforms assessing gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in university policies and engaged in engagements on women’s health and leadership, neurodiversity, and mental health, and my knowledge of the legislative frameworks addressing SGBV has come in quite handy. This is possible because of the access to such information through YW4A.

I am proud to be associated with the YW4A programme working with Equality Now since it has exposed me to training on legal advocacy, media advocacy, and coalition building including interaction with some SOAWR coalition members. I now have a good understanding of human rights and the law and can apply it to my daily life and to the experiences and encounters that I have with my friends, family, community and other young women under the programme. Participating in the NGOs Forum and the 77th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights opened my eyes in a very real way to the linkage of human rights to the national context and how governments are held accountable at regional level.

Through Pathway 4 in the programme, CECOME and partners received technical support in the development of the Gender Policy for Kisii County, which is a substantial right step in addressing sexual and gender-based violence and the deeply patriarchal attitudes that continue to be rooted in Kisii. Equality Now has been open to the referral of some cases of GBV that are proving challenging at the county level and has created a link to 2 organisations working in the same thematic area as CECOME, that is, KMET and Inuka success in Kisumu county, organisations that we have visited and shared on good practices.

I am a success story and proof that a girl from a village in Kenya can dream and the dream can become a reality. I know young women back home feel this is possible for them too, and they are right. I feel a responsibility to encourage women to amplify their voices against violations, speak up for their rights, and take action in taking up opportunities to learn, unlearn and relearn. 

Every day, I am a work in progress.