Creating ‘Safe space’ for women?

Earlier this month. I got an opportunity to attend a training by The Africa Women’s Development and Communication Network, (FEMNET). The two-day training themed; ‘Strengthening Young African Women’s Movement and their role in Ending FGM and Child/forced marriages’ -was meant to equip young feminists with skills to help them better their campaign programs.

I  am a young female blogger on the same so I qualified to attend this ‘one of a kind’ training.

ruth 2
Catherine Nyambura, Programme Associate, FEMNET, (Left) poses with trainees

Why do I call it ‘one of a kind’ training? Well I consider the training unique for the sheer reason that all the participants were females only! I have never attended a training where participants comprised of single sex, either, or. This particular one being my first. Most of my fellow trainees shared my sentiments.

Hold up, before you ask me whether I ought to have seen the theme indicating ‘Young African Women’ Oh yes I clearly saw that while responding to the call for participation. But again, how many times have we attended women themed meetings and workshops where male participants dominated discussions on  ‘women’s issues’ and arrived at solutions on ‘our’ behalf. I have. Many times. And I tend to talk less….

‘Hmmm this is interesting…’ I thought to myself on the first day of the training. Finally, what a safe space for women to exercise their freedom of expression without fear and to better articulate their issues.

During one of the health breaks, I caught up with an over excited 25 year old Ruth Kilimo. Ruth, Founder Marakwet Girls Foundation narrowly escaped Female Genital Mutilation at the age of 9. Ruth was happy to finally have found a space where healing was more important than debate. She is currently working to end FGM and early marriages in Elgeyo Marakwet, a region that is largely marginalised.

Ruth Chepchumba Kilimo, Founder, Marakwet Girls Foundation sharing her experience during the training.

The room was filled up with young women from various parts of the country, women of about 24-40 years. Women with vigor, women who believe that the future of the next generation is destined in their hands, women who won’t allow young girls to experience inequalities and oppression for being women like they have! Women who are ready to hold hands and synergize towards a just, safe society for all. You can now imagine the energy in ‘that’ room.

The training topics were quite interesting and I must say I loved understanding my Sexual Reproductive Health Rights. Let me be honest. I probably have used this term ‘SRHR”  a couple of times not really knowing what it actually meant. So, if you have been throwing it around not knowing what it means then do not worry. Here is what I learnt. I promise to be as brief as possible (because today am discussing ‘safe spaces’, rather)

Women’s sexual and reproductive health is related to multiple human rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination

Under sexual rights; the 14th World Congress of Sexology (Hong Kong, 1999), adopted the Universal Declaration of Sexual Rights, which includes 11 sexual rights:

  1. The right to sexual freedom.
  2. The right to sexual autonomy, sexual , and safety of the sexual body.
  3. The right to sexual privacy.
  4. The right to sexual equity.
  5. The right to sexual pleasure.
  6. The right to emotional sexual expression.
  7. The right to sexually associate freely.
  8. The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices.
  9. The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry.
  10. The right to comprehensive sexuality education.
  11. The right to sexual health care.

Now you know.

Besides the SRHR session, young women also got to learn about advocacy and how to carry out successful campaigns. How to engage the media to amplify their voices and how to leverage on new/social media to earn a critical mass. We were also taught to understand the need for young feminist movement building that is as young women, if we collaborate and concert efforts we are going to achieve our desired vision sooner.

Back to safe spaces, my definition for safe spaces would therefore be; places or communities-either online or off- where bigotry, misogyny and oppressive views are not tolerated. Controlled environments in which people discuss certain issues and support one another. Essentially safe spaces provide a network of support and understanding. An oasis for some groups who are otherwise denied safety and respect by the world.

and this is the space that young women activists just need!



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