Students gather in Nairobi to challenge gender stereotypes in schools

Dadas Fest 2020

“We see girls get segregated to be taught this and that. Then they come back to class and tell us they have been given ‘bread’ (sanitary pads). As boys we need to learn too and know the basics. As a result, we shall not shame but help and support them when it is that time of the month,”

Biron, 13 years
Students from Huruma Girls High school in Nairobi participate at the Dadas Festival to mark the International Women’s Day 2020. over 900 students took part in the event meant to challenge gender stereotypes in schools. PHOTO/Creative Lab Africa

By Nduku Muema

Inaugural Dadas Fest 2020 Celebrated

Straight Talk Foundation Kenya held its inaugural annual Dadas Fest 2020 on Saturday, March 7 to celebrate this year’s International Women Day. The event held at Our Lady of Mercy Girls’ Primary School at Shauri Moyo in Nairobi had a special focus on school girls and boys. The festival’s theme was “Challenging gender stereotypes in schools” and used the hashtag #TukoSawaNaUsawa, in line with this year’s International Women Day theme, “I am Generation Equality : Realising Women’s Rights.”

Dadas Fest 2020 brought together over 900 school going participants from various primary and secondary schools in Nairobi County.

Ending gender stereotypes in schools

From the intergeneration talks and discussions held, gender stereotypes at school were listed, discussed, challenged and demystified. The lively sessions were moderated by Faith Fao of UNFPA. Parents and teachers were urged to be deliberate and on the forefront in the cause towards ending gender stereotypes at school and home.

“We have raised our children telling them boys or girls should or should not do this or that. For instance, boys should not cry or speak out, girls should sit like this or do this or that chore. This is wrong. We need to teach children that they are equal and what a boy can do a girl can do. and probably do it better even and vice versa,” Ms Christine Marete, the Shauri Moyo Location chief said.

Students at the Dadas Fest 2020 participating in exciting outdoor games and activities to demonstrate gender stereotypes and bias, in their surroundings and how to extend their limits and potential.
Students participating in exciting outdoor games and activities to demonstrate gender stereotypes and bias, in their surroundings and how to extend their limits and potential.

Ms Marete said boys have been raised to keep quiet and suffer in silence. Therefore, this kills their self esteem and makes them keep silent even when they are sexually violated or have any issue bothering them.

“Let us aim at raising boys who can speak up for themselves first, then we shall be making progress. Let’s be sure we are raising men who can comfortably and confidently speak about equality and women’s rights too,” the chief added.

Gender equality can be achieved

Samuel Gachiri, a teacher, said gender equality can be achieved in schools if the government, teachers and students themselves get very deliberate with achieving it.

Students peruse through a copy of the popular Young Talk Magazine, an information, educational and communication publication prepared by adolescents and distributed to the over 300 Straight Talk clubs in schools around Kenya

“In schools, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education has been assumed for a long time to be a men’s thing. The government is making some progress in addressing STEM and gender but a lot has to be done too. Teachers too should involve all genders in STEM education uptake. Textbooks must be reviewed, let’s not have a picture of a lady where a nurse is mentioned or a man where an engineer is mentioned, ” the teacher said.

Girls challenged to take STEM head on

Mr Gachiri also challenged girls to stand up tall and take STEM education head on. He explained that for instance in a mixed school set up, most times boys are more willing than girls to perform STEM class activities.

“I challenge girls to be bold enough and indulge in STEM education with the confidence boys have. As a girl student, start small, volunteer to even arrange the apparatus at the Chemistry laboratory. These are some of the smallest STEM education tasks that we as teachers see girls shy away from,” the teacher said.

All children are equal

On the role of parents in encouraging and instilling gender equality from an early age, Catherine Wangui, a parent, said that parents have a very big obligation at home and be champions against gender stereotypes.

“All children are equal. Parents should completely move from the old belief that it is better to educate a boy than a girl. In the house, as a parent, be very deliberate with assigning house chores, let boys wash utensils, let girls cut grass. Help your children demystify gender roles. Start when they are young, for instance, give a small girl a car toy,” the parent said.

Involving boys in menstrual matters

Jackline Mumbo, a parent, advised that boys must be actively involved in girls and menstruation issues.

“ Teach boys what menstruation is. Deliberately send your son to the shop or supermarket to buy his sister a packet of sanitary towels. This boy will grow up knowing that menstruation is normal. He will not go to school to shame a menstruating girl and push her to do the unthinkable like the menstruation shaming case we had last year in Bomet County,” Ms Mumbo said.

She added that a boy raised knowing that menstruation is normal will grow up into a fine gentleman who understands his wife, sister and daughter more and will influence others.

Menstruation is normal

Teacher Modesta of Kibera Soccer Academy told the girls that they should not be ashamed of their menses. She elaborated that menstruation is something that the girls should be very proud of, for it makes them real women.

Dadas Fest 2020 brought together over 900 school going participants from various primary and secondary schools in Nairobi County.

Speaking on behalf of the students, Biron* a pupil suggested that boys be actively involved in menstruation sensitization.

“We see girls get segregated to be taught this and that. Then they come back to class and tell us they have been given ‘bread’ (sanitary pads). As boys we need to learn too and know the basics. That way, we shall not shame but help and support them when it is that time of the month,” Biron said.

His female counterpart, Laura Andisi, a Class 8 pupil, said boys need to start opening up to girls about their issues.

“We are all equal and as girls we want to understand boys more. Let them tell us their fear, their problems. We care and we won’t shame them,” she said.

Games and equality march

Away from the talks, the children were engaged in other activities that made Dadas Fest a success. These included a lot of fun, games, skits and entertainment relevant to the theme of the day. Martha Kombe and Evelyne Odhiambo from Straight Talk kept the students engaged through exciting energisers. Notably too, was a procession that the participants took part in. The walk, around Shauri Moyo was to sensitize and educate the local community about International Women Day. Gender equality and women rights messages were carried in songs, chants and placards. Other partners in the festival included Ticah Health, an organisation that runs ‘Your Aunty Jane Hotline’ toll free counselling services for the youth, Nairobi City County Department of Health, Y-ACT – a dedicated youth advocacy arm of the AMREF Africa, Reproductive Health Network, Nairobi County Youth Advisory Council, She Decides Kenya and the Young and Free Movement, 

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