Edith Wairimu: “Change is difficult, but it will come”

In Jeroen’s Breakfast Brief, Solidaridad Executive Director Jeroen Douglas listens to people who bring an interesting perspective forward in relation to the topic of sustainable supply chains. In this episode, he speaks with Edith Wairimu, Communication and Knowledge Management Officer for Solidaridad in East and Central Africa.

Edith Wairimu joined Solidaridad in the same month of her marriage. She fell in love with the brand colours of Solidaridad: Yellow and Black. “Precisely as I feel today”. 

In her position as Communications and Knowledge Management officer at Solidaridad East and Central Africa, with her base in Nairobi, Kenya, Edith shows her ambition clearly. I had an interesting conversation with her about inclusivity and communication. 

Inclusivity has many angles of approach. It can apply to including the voice of women, but also to bringing the voice of our beneficiaries directly to the table. How can we build multi-communication channels that can bring the voices of farmers directly to people? If we truly manage to do so, it can be quite powerful for purposes of awareness creation, partnership building, and fundraising also. 

The Gender ABC

In her onboarding discussions, Edith told me she had some eye-opening conversations on gender stereotyping and the need to break those barriers down. “We need to ask ourselves all the time: are we inclusive in our communication?”  Edith mentioned inspiring chats she had with Njeri Kimotho, our Solidaridad global gender expert. Njeri developed the Gender ABC as our journey to make the organization more gender inclusive. A for Analyzing and addressing barriers to participation; B for Balancing power relations; and C for Creating togetherness based on shared values and interests. Edith finds comfort and guidance in our in-house ABC.

I asked Edith: “Do you have any advice for this Dutch white male, 56 years old executive director? I sometimes feel I’m in the worst category. I sometimes feel complicated about myself, just by being. We have to work on inclusivity. Here in The Netherlands we got a lot of debate on the Black Lives Matter movement, the need to break the glass ceiling for women, the urge to affirming the LBGTQ+ community. I am quite sensitized to these items, but it’s very difficult to create a culture of openness and inclusion where there is no racism, no sexism, no age discrimination, nor cultural identity stigmatization. Do you have any advice for me as ED?”

Edith: “Well, you are already on a good path, and I was reading something the other day: does it have to be ‘African Black Woman’? Does it have to be a ‘White Male Farmer’? It is all about how we are conditioned. And our stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in us, that we don’t even recognize the stereotypes we are saying. And one really hopes that this is not done by anybody else. It is about recognizing that sometimes we are not inclusive, and we say the wrong things. It is human nature to make a mistake. But when there is a desire to make a change and be conscious about it, and make a few steps, we are making progress. We need to question ourselves: am I perpetuating stereotypes? When I say: I’m a black African woman, was this supposed to be meaning something else? No, I’m a black African woman! Asking yourselves those questions on a continuous basis, and also reaching out to someone else: do I communicate right? Am I sending the right message? This is work in progress, as humanity we need to make these efforts, and I know we are progressing here.” 

Our stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in us, that we don’t even recognize them.

Edith Wairimu

I also asked Edith how this inclusivity dilemma works at farm level. The majority of the African farming is done by women. It is about our daily food, about health and well-being. Still, we see so much poverty and even extreme poverty among African smallholder farming. So, how can we support women to lead the continent away from poverty, and build a food-safe continent with a healthy daily diet for all Africans? Women who farm and take care of food and income, are the ones that struggle with income and food security. It is the paradox of Africa. 

Edith: “What I’ve noticed in my first few months and having been to the field already a few times, is that we, as Solidaridad, work cross-cultural; We give women the tools to work and transform their own lives. We need to continue to recognize the cross multicultural settings. Culture, religion, and gender tend to be a barrier hindrance and it makes it hard for Solidaridad staff to reach the women so that they prosper and thrive. Solidaridad is on the right course, I have seen, and we work on the needs of the communities and our work is inclusive. We empower the women, and this not by excluding the men.” 

Edith has seen the effectiveness of the Gender ABC in practice. ”We work on these barriers that make inclusion a tough ride. Barriers that have systematically disenfranchised women. Take land ownership. Predominantly owned by men, whilst the women do the work. So, if you, as a female entrepreneur wish to ask for finance, the bank will ask for collateral. The land is collateral, but the land is owned by someone else. We, therefore, need to work with all parties in the communities, not just with the farmers alone. We can already see the change in the communities where we as Solidaridad are working in. Women do now have access to finance through Village Saving & Lending Associations, whereby the communities pull their reserves together and allow women to tap into these funds and make their farming activities more professional and create more income.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

It seems to be Kenya’s national challenge to break the glass ceiling. Certainly among the most complicated and enduring issues the nation faces. I asked Edith how we can change this. She sighed a bit and took a deep breath. ”Government has changed the rules here. Previously women were not entitled to inherit the land, that is gradually changing now.” 

Obviously a sensitive topic.  

There may be a clash between the national constitution and tribal community reality going on, as we see in other African nations too. Edith confirms this: “From nearby, I can tell you this story.  There is a family of eight siblings, and one is a woman. The lady was left out of the inheritance. When the legal process got noted, the lady was left outside the paperwork. And the lawyer, a woman, indicated: ‘legally I cannot sign this, it is unconstitutional’. Here you have a real-life case. Do we push it for legality or do we hold it back, as we don’t want to fight with your siblings?

But Edith remains optimistic:

Change comes with resistance, and change is difficult. But it will come.

Edith Wairimu

It reminded me of the world-famous liberation song of Sam Cooke: A change is gonna come.    

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