by Maria Ranallo
Today, the International Day of Rural Women, celebrates the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. At Asante Africa Foundation we are also celebrating Mary Kwena, former Kenyan Program Associate for our Girl’s Advancement Program, who is being recognized for her impactful work empowering rural communities and spearheading women’s rights efforts in East Africa.
Mary has been awarded the prestigious 2015 Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life by the Women’s World Summit Foundation, whose principle objective is to empower women, children and NGOs. The award honors creative and courageous women and women’s groups around the world for their contribution in improving the quality of life in rural communities, protecting the environment, transmitting knowledge and standing up for human rights, development and peace.
Mary has pioneered training programs in sustainable education and sanitation, sexual maturation, and health and hygiene, and developed financial education initiatives to empower and educate rural girls in marginalized communities. Through her work with Asante Africa Foundation, she has impacted the lives of over 4,000 girls and has created discourse surrounding traditional community practices that are harmful to women.
Mary directed our Wezesha Vijana program in Kenya, which keeps girls in school and develops health, financial and social assets to help them build stable futures with greater opportunity. Through this program, girls are able to advance in school by building their confidence in managing menstruation, asserting the protection of their bodies, and reducing the rate of dropout due to pregnancy. The program is also aimed at increasing communication between peers and parents in order to better manage sexual and reproductive health, which is expected to bring about healthier families and communities.
The Wezesha Vijana Program has proven to be a powerful force in the lives of the girls it reaches. Some of the key outcomes measured in a recent UNGEI case study include:
- Around 90% of project participants interviewed reported that dropout due to pregnancy in their schools had decreased.
- Over ten times as many Wezesha girls scored above average marks in standard examinations compared to the control group.
- Wezesha girls correctly answered sexual and reproductive health and rights questions 1.5 times more frequently than control group girls.
For more information on the impact of Wezesha Vijana and our other Girls’ Advancement programs, click here.
On this International Day of Rural Women, all of us at Asante Africa Foundation are sending congratulations and thanks to Mary Kwena! Though she is currently on leave while pursuing her Masters in Gender and Development studies at Kenyatta University, we are so very proud of Mary, and honored to have worked with her to transform the lives of so many Kenyan girls.