Women in Power

I’ve had a bit of a mundane Sunday. But last Sunday was spent entertaining Meg Munn, MP for Sheffield Heeley constituency, which may provide a more entertaining update than today’s hand washing extravaganza!

A bit of background first: my flatmate here has a rather glamorous sounding VSO placement working with a group that supports Kenyan female Parliamentarians. Kenya introduced a WOW new constitution in 2010 which made a significant statement for gender equality by requiring that at least 1/3rd of all public offices be held by women.

Of course, implementing such a quota system takes time. And expertise.

Luckily, one of VSO’s initiatives involves placing political volunteers in short-term, high-impact placements. Enter Meg, who was here to help Kenyan politicians think about how a rule written on paper could become a reality.

Last Sunday marked the end of Meg’s two-week placement and mainly consisted of food and chat (including a visit to our less-than-glamorous local pub). But it was fascinating to discuss the options for increasing female representation and hear that in all likelihood getting there would take 15 – 20 years to achieve. Meg outlined how the UK Labour Party (her party) has increased female representation through the use of all-women short lists for winnable seats at election time. Or in less jargony language: if you want to vote Labour in one of these chosen constituencies then you will necessarily be voting for a woman.


Of course the debate rages on about using quota systems to achieve aims of reducing inequality in the first place: Are we getting the best candidates? Will we only ever get “good” candidates if we give aspiring young women strong female role models and show that politics isn’t a man’s game?

But luckily you don’t have to agree on quotas to agree that increasing gender equality is a good thing or – at the very least – a necessary thing! In a nice concise bullet list:

  • Women make up half of the world’s population. We could leave it there…but…we’ll go on
  • Women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce 50% of all food, but earn only 10% of world income and only 1% of property
  • Women are estimated to account for almost two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people globally who live in extreme poverty

In recognition of this, VSO is running a campaign about putting the needs of women high on the post-2015 agenda (again, in less jargon, the debate about what happens when the Millennium Development Goals come to an end).

Please take a little moment to sign their petition:


Otherwise, for those keen on stats:

  • Rwanda tops the table in the progressive stakes with women sitting in 63.5% of seats in Parliament!
  • Kenya comes 78th with 19.1% although if it achieves the quota target then it will join the ranks of the top 30 countries.
  • UK just beats Kenya coming in at 65 on the list with 22.6% of seats taken by women (House of Commons that is. The House of Lords is performing marginally better!)

For even more stats: http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm






A healthy result

I’m just home from a long day at work. A day that had its origin several months ago during a rather stressful submission of a funding application.

As a Fundraising Advisor with VSO the whole idea behind my job is that I don’t fundraise independently, but that I build the skills and ability of my colleagues to do so. The rationale is that by the end of my year here, my placement organisation should be better placed to fundraise successfully than before. Whereas if I do the work for them no-one learns anything.

This is absolutely the best approach but it can be really difficult in practice. And this application was a good example.

When the call for proposals first came out I ran a workshop with the team to develop up potential ideas. Very quickly we settled on a brilliant project focusing on health provision for young people.

Young people in Kenya are affected disproportionately by a wide range of health issues. Almost 95% of all abortions are administered to women under the age of 24 years with unsafe abortions amounting to 35% of maternal deaths and 50% of hospital gynecological admissions in Nairobi. One third of all HIV/AIDS cases in Kenya are found among those aged 15 – 30 years old with rates of infection up to five times higher for young females than males. And the mental health of young Kenyans is markedly poor in comparison with their peers in neighbouring countries with 10% reporting that they are depressed.

Our project was going to play a small part in tackling this in an incredibly deprived area of Nairobi by constructing a Youth Wellbeing Centre, offering a safe, youth-friendly first port of call for those with concerns, heavily partnered with professional clinics in the area and with community outreach being conducted by well-trained youth volunteers.

The idea was great, all we had to do was get it down on paper (plus a bit of research, consultation etc etc). But tragically my colleague who was due to write the bid lost her sister and all of a sudden I had a deadline to meet without the first clue of how to budget for a health project in Kenya!

Amazingly the bid was shortlisted and Wednesday was interview day with the funder to clarify the project idea and check our organisation has the ability to deliver. To compensate for the un-VSO proposal writing stage, I was determined to make sure my colleague stepped up and led the interview.

Which meant Tuesday was a full day of interview prepping. I took the role of funder and grilled my colleague on the bus, over lunch, and in the office as we waited for power to return (it never did). “How is the project aligned with government priorities? How are young people involved in the management of the charity? How are you going to fund the project in the long-term so it is sustainable? What is your fundraising strategy for the match funding required? What experience of running health projects do you have already?”

My poor colleague looked shell-shocked and scared for the first hour or so. And by lunch I could tell she was exhausted. She had thought we would spend the day printing out background papers so I was really glad that we took the time to do the prep. But by the end of the day she knew the project inside and out and her answers were strong and confident.

The night before the interview I felt weirdly not nervous. I’m used to being the one on the spot but this time I was genuinely looking forward to seeing my colleague perform the next day as I knew she was well-prepared.

And it went brilliantly! We had answers and paperwork for almost everything the funder threw our way and so many people turned up to the session to support the bid, from Committee members to young people to neighbouring health clinic representatives to staff from the County government office.

But the best bit was seeing my colleague lead the session and knowing she had really gained something from the whole process.

Now we just have to wait a couple more months for the final decision…fingers crossed!