Straight Talk Club members attend Dada fest 2020
Students from various primary and secondary schools at the Dada Fest 2020, a girls festival to mark the International Women’s Day 2020

By Nduku Muema | Straight Talk

Straight Talk Foundation held its annual Dadas Fest on Saturday, March 7, 2020 to celebrate this year’s International Women Day.

Dadas Fest 2020 was held at Our Lady of Mercy Girls’ Primary School at Shauri Moyo in Nairobi. This special event celebrated International Women Day with a focus on school girls and boys. The fest’s theme, “Challenging gender stereotypes in schools” and its hashtag #TukoSawaNaUsawa was in line with this year’s International Women Day theme, “I am Generation Equality : Realising Women’s Rights.”

Dada Fest 2020 brought together over 600 school going participants from various primary and secondary schools in Nairobi County.

From the talks and discussions held, gender stereotypes at school were listed, discussed, challenged and demystified. 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. It is wrong. We need to teach children that they are equal and what a boy can do, a girl can do it too and probably do it better even and vice versa,” said Ms Christine Marete, the Shauri Moyo Location chief.

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

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

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

“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. 

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.

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 of no gender stereotypes. 

“All children are equal. Parents should completely move from the old belief that it is better to educate a boy than  girl. In the house, as a parent, be very deliberate with assigning house chores, let boys wash utensils, let girl 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.

On girls and menstruation, another parent, Jackline Mumbo said that boys must be actively involved. 

“ 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 and 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.

Teacher Modesta of Kibera Soccer Academy told the girls that they should nof be ashamed of their menses, elaborating that menstruation is something that the girls should be very proud of for it makes them real women.

Speaking on behalf of the students, Biron* a pupil suggests 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 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.

Away from the talks, the children were engaged in other activities that made the fest a success. These included a lot of fun, games, skits  and entertainment relevant to the theme of the day. Notably too, was a procession that the participants took part in. The walk around Shauri Moyo was sentisitize and educate the local community about International Women Day, gender equality and women rights with the message carried in songs, chants and placards.

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