On this International Youth Day, we speak to a young feminist making waves in Kenya and abroad on women's sexual and reproductive health rights.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role as Dandelion Kenya Deputy Director.

Catherine is a passionate young African feminist activist with over 7 years of experience in advancing gender equality, youth development and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of sustainable development through movement building, digital and social media, policy advocacy and capacity building for young women and adolescents girls. Catherine is currently Deputy Director at Dandelion Kenya, Dandelion Kenya is a Feminist organization based in Nakuru Kenya working with women and youth to enable access to sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services

2. How would you describe Gender Equality and why is it important in the different spheres of life?

Gender Equality is important because it is at the core of the change making process in Africa otherwise we won’t move. In particular we need to enable women and girls access to information andspaces and opportunity influence policy change. It is only until we have full and effective participation of women and girls in social, political and economic development that we will havea just society. I want to see women and girls living in a world where they control choices regarding their bodies and health, their bodily autonomy is guaranteed and their agency is promoted.

3. What does it entail to be a young leader at Woman Deliver and what conversations did you have in Copenhagen in relation to status of Sexual and Reproductive rights, particularly in relation to Kenya?

As a women deliver young leader you access training and facilitation through online courses, access global and regional policy and decision making spaces. These spaces enable young advocates carry the voices of their constituencies, mostly women and girls and other marginalized groups such as LGBTI and rural youth and also be at the decision making tables. As a women deliver young leader, you are able to apply for seed funding for your project which provides much needed resources to power and propel youth start ups, social enterprises and organizations. At women deliver there were conversations related to SDGs, maternal health and family planning all of which apply to Kenya. The unmet needs of family planning are a reality for young people, I sat on panels speaking about access to safe abortion and we know very well that a third of maternal mortality are from unsafe abortions. Kenya led the SDGs process globally but has been slow in actualizing the process nationally. I also participated in conversations around financing for women’s rights organizations.

4. What were the discussions on the 60th Session for the Commission on the Status of Women this year in New York in relation to sexual and reproductive health rights and what is the way forward on the Resolution that came out of it?

The discussions were keen to of course discuss women’s empowermentand link to sustainable development as priority theme. Within the SDGs there are targets on SRHR( 3.7 and 5.6). This was important to tease out and ensure that those targets are given equal prominence as the others. The session also had Violence against women as a review theme and this isof global importance given the high rates of violence against women globally. The agreed conclusions will continue to guide the gender equality efforts of countries globally and the HIV resolution was important in building momentum to the High Level Meeting AIDS in June

5. Would you say that the Kenyan government is on the right track to achieving Gender Equality? What are some of the things they can do to step up their initiatives?

The progress is regrettably slow, we have only 19% of women in elected leadership, none of the appointment positions go beyond 30%. With regards to education, we have achieved near parity in primary school enrolment but fail in retention, completion and transition and have below 1% women and girls in STEM. We have 27% FGM prevalence with some areas above 90%, we are doing bad with maternal mortality. Gender equality requires deliberate actions and high end sustainable political. We must also continue working hard in regards to legislations to enable gender equality such as the 2 thirds gender bill and also enable access to services and tools that women and girls require for the promotion of their agency

6. Where does your passion for sexual and reproductive health issues come from? 

I grew up in Mukuru slums and was witness to rights violations and gaps in women and girls health particularly SRHR. I lost friends to maternal mortality and AIDS and had classmates drop out of school due to teenage pregnancy. I engage in SRHR advocacy to ensure that adolescent girls and young women are guaranteed choices regarding their bodies, health and life through access to information and services. The policy gaps, socio cultural, financial and infrastructural barriers compel me to act

7. With the number of sexual assault cases rising, what would be your advice to women on how they can protect themselves, especially young women?

It is not for women and girls to PROTECT THEMSELVES but for societies to hold the rapists (mostly men and boys) accountable for their actions. We need to tell men not to rape and ensure the legislation is airtight in not aiding patriarchy. Women and girls have been told what to do for the longest time, rape culture and victim blaming are all tools of patriarchy. It is time we addressed the underlying power and gender relations issues that nurture rape culture and all other harmful and discriminatory social norms

8. Being that abortion is outlawed in Kenya yet it is still practiced by illegal clinics and under very unsafe conditions, do you think its its time to outlaw it? 

Abortion is about bodily autonomy and choice for women, there is no amount of legislation against the issues that will make it go away!!. I am feminist and this means supporting women’s choice which includes reproductive freedom. Being a safe abortion advocate, I think that it’s important to point out how restrictive laws only increase numbers of unsafe abortions by outlawing choice and policing women’s bodies.

9. What   is   your   advice   to   young   women   who   want   to   get   involved   in   sexual   and reproductive health rights in Kenya?

There is need to build your own capacity by educating yourself on the issues and the politics given that SRHR is both an issue based and political conversation ( in both subtle and pronounced ways depending on the level you want to engage. Eventually it is crucial to know that working on SRHR is only worthwhile if you are complementing efforts of other actors, being innovative and most importantly engaging in movement building. The fragmentation and the fact not all advocates are on the same page on the politics of issues such as abortion and LGBTI rights is what impedes progress. Finally is to ensure that we also build astrong feminist movement because feminism asks the most difficult questions and where there is feminism, certainly we reimagine how to ask the questions.

10. What is the SDGs Kenya Forum about and why such a forum?

The SDGs Kenya Forum is a platform resulting from a transition process by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who came together about 3 years ago as the Kenya CSOs Reference Group on Post 2015.The transition and the forum was driven by the need to

i) Have a coordinated and structured approach for civil society and citizens to engage the government and other development actors towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs)

ii) Create space and open up a forum for CSOs to strategically align, organise and participate in critical conversations with various ministries, county governments and development partners

iii) Strengthen partnerships and provide technical support to respective government departments and development partners that are key to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs).

Members of the SDGs Kenya Forum comprise of diverse CSOs constituencies seeking to contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs).