Nairobi, Kenya - Thanks to Lilian Balanga, Gender Specialist, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya, I had the privilege of attending an inspiring and informative Zoom meeting where Balanga was a guest speaker on the topic, Experiences from Dedicated Gender Advisers: Learning from Partners and Colleagues Working in Africa. The meeting was part of The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) committed efforts to include a gender perspective into more of its conservation projects and explore how to best address gender integration in their work. The virtual meeting hosted by Guilia Besana, was attended by several invitees, none of whom I am affiliated with or know personally, but all of whom I felt were equally enthusiastic about gender initiatives in local communities.
Kenyan Woman Successfully Integrating Gender Into Conservation Work
I was recently introduced to Balanga by an uncle who is an avid supporter and "default" member of the Samburu community in Laikipia County, Kenya. Balanga holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Leadership and Management and a diploma in Community Development, Project Planning and Management. She has over 13 years experience working with NGOs and country governments. This includes 4 years working for the Samburu County government as Gender Chief Officer. She has also worked with ActionAid Kenya advocating for gender inclusion and integration for pastoralist communities. My uncle was enthusiastic to put me in touch with Balanga because he realized our interests and community work were aligned, specifically where gender equality and women empowerment in marginalized communities is concerned.
In her presentation, Balanga described how "the gender component was (seen as) a new thing" and posed a challenge when she first took on the role of gender specialist in her community and across Kenya. To really be heard by the local people, she had to incorporate gender sensitization strategies, from conducting radio presentations to hosting community barazas (deliberation meetings usually held by elders or wise council). Over the years, Balanga has managed to change attitudes about gender and she is seeing increasing participation of other women and youth in this important work.
Learning From A Man's Perspective in Gender Issues Jeremiah Daffa, MSc, Governance & Gender Officer at Tuungane Project was the other guest speaker who shared his experience as a gender adviser in western Tanzania where Tuungane (Swahili for "Let's Unite") aims to create healthier families, fisheries and forests. Daffa has over 20 years experience in Governance, Gender & Policy issues especially in NRM, Environment Management and Climate Change. He was the first person at TNC to be hired as a Gender & Governance Officer in 2017. He has also worked with the Tanzania Fisheries Department, National Environment Management Council and with the Tanzania Coastal Management Partnership as a Policy & Gender Senior Advisor and Consultant.
It was enlightening to hear Daffa's views and experiences as a male Gender Officer. Daffa humbly and honestly shared some of the challenges faced in his work. He mentioned it is difficult to be a man charged with gender-related work in a society that generally associates gender with women issues or with women solely or perhaps women and children only. His peer Balanga agreed there is a general misconception that gender is a women only affair. Daffa also described initial relationships with government and working partners as "not smooth". He told us he spent a lot of time working and learning to nurture and grow important community relationships. Daffa recognized his team members for their tenacity and wisdom to get the job done.
In a Q&A session following the presentations, both speakers were commended by audience members for their work and leadership. It was wonderful to hear one member of the audience say that her otherwise hectic day had been uplifted by hearing about the phenomenal work done by both gender specialists.
How To Assist Gender Specialists Achieve Better Results Locally
In answer to my question on what they (as gender specialists) need to adequately propel their work forward, Daffa said they need "good cooperation, good communication" from, with the local people, in order to achieve better results. As an example, Daffa mentioned difficulty in getting air time on local radio stations; he would like to see help and support from community entities or businesses that can facilitate such communication and outreach resources. He also hopes for the women and youth they work with to be empowered economically. Balanga added the need for supporters far and wide to share the work they are doing in gender equality and awareness. She also mentioned a great need for linkages to networks and fundraising.
"The Youth Need Special Attention"
When asked how the youth are integrated in their work and what the challenges are in integrating the youth, Daffa proudly stated that majority of those he works with are youth! He added, one big challenge in accommodating youth is leveling out where they are in their growth and development and then grouping them according to their age, education level, experience, interests, capabilities and even their availability aside from school and family commitments. Daffa and team have integrated school clubs from the primary level and up, from where they train youth in a variety of sectors such as agriculture and fishing. Daffa added, "the youth need special attention", referring to the importance of personalizing youth inclusion in gender discussions by being sensitive to the fact that they are young, impressionable and vulnerable. Balanga added to these sentiments, saying the circle of integration would not be complete without including the youth. She said NRT is not only training women in microfinancing and beekeeping but is also including the morans (young men - the warriors of pastoralist tribes of the Maasai and Samburu) in such training. Balanga further highlighted the importance of the youth in community action when she mentioned their value in the role of peacemaking especially where communities fight over land resources.
Invitation to Work with Gender Awareness Collaborators and Clients
Sanguinetti & Company is open to collaborating with like-minded individuals and entities such as Balanga and others who are passionate about community empowerment. We welcome dialogue, partnership and support of women and gender equality programs and initiatives both in Kenya and in the United States. Personally, I welcome consulting, writing, research and project management roles where fitting opportunities present themselves in community or gender-related sectors. To get in touch with me about volunteer travel planning or other business where gender or community initiatives in Kenya or USA are concerned, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: Let's Talk!
Some photos courtesy and property of Lilian Balanga and/or NRT