Mary Kiio is all about innovative leadership with a purpose
She is many things all rolled up in one, working in area where women hardly rise to the top and neither is their story told.
Mary Kiio is a Trainer of Trainers on Technology Based Violence against Women, Online in Cyber Crime, journalism mentor and trainer specializing in Conflict Sensitive journalism, citizen journalism, humanitarian reporting and how to form discussion groups specific to program needs for evaluation. The training she conducts often includes a mix of media and civil society participants.
Kiio is also a freelance journalist who is committed to telling stories on democracy as well as a children’s book author.
Below are excerpts from an interview with her.
Question: What qualities define your personality as an African woman?
Kiio: Persistence. When I believe in something I keep on despite any odds. I remember once I was working with a team of media trainers where I was the only female for a few years.
Whenever I said anything with regards to women’s rights, women’s voices being heard or empowerment I would be treated with scepticism. I was branded a “feminist”. However, with time I was able to introduce a module into a pre-existing training programme on conflict sensitive journalism. The conflict and women module was aimed at increasing the voices of women in media especially the actors involved in conflict and capturing the unique experiences that women go through during a time of conflict. I was also involved in developing a strategy on how we could increase the number of women journalists to the trainings we conducted.
Question: What has been your experience with the African Woman Leadership Institute?
Kiio: My experience with African Women Leadership Institute was mind blowing. From learning about women’s rights, to leadership and how to conduct myself as a leader, among many other topics helped me understand so many things I did not know.
In my personal life I have been able to assert myself whenever challenged on issues on women and their right to be heard. In my career development I have consistently been involved in various forums where I have been able to learn a lot on what is going on in the women’s movement. In most cases I have been able to translate all these to the trainings I conduct and also in telling stories of women especially on their health and safety.
Question: What unique aspects did you draw from the African Women Leadership Institute training that have proved particularly effective on improving the status of women?
Kiio: One of the unique aspects that was also a major lesson for me was on the practicality of the sessions. How to be confident when you present yourself in any fora is very important. I was initially a very shy person and could barely speak out my opinion or even walk to the front of a room. When I heard about how I could improve on my confidence I made a conscious decision to try it. It was not something that I got immediately; it took many years for me to build that confidence. The fact that I am now a trainer and I am able to make presentations in front of many participants is something I do not think I would have ever achieved if the seeds had not been instilled in me during the African Women Leadership Institute training.
Question: Would you recommend any young woman to the African Women Leadership Institute this training?
Kiio: Oh yes I would. The young woman, if she is anything like me will go to the training expecting it to be like any other training where many people will come and talk to us and then leave. The fact that we were able to spend many days at the workshop meant that every trainer had adequate time to share information and took in many questions from the participants.
If you are not as confident as I was then, the trainers who stayed at least for a few days with us and were open in their approach and gave us the opportunity to ask all the questions we had.
As one of the organising officials told me, change for various participants happens differently. There are those who when they leave the training have their lives changed dramatically but there are some (like me) whose change will come on gradually but the main thing is that all of us would be able to associate that change with the training we went through.
Question: What has been fuelling the women’s movement through the years?
Kiio: The women’s resilience in light of the opposition they face. I also think the positive stories of women who have gone against all odds and made a difference that is attributed to the women’s movement has gone a long way in giving examples that others can emulate and galvanized the movement. Every stride made in the women’s movement is celebrated and lessons learned and adapted to suit the various situations that other women work at emulating.
Questions: What are the new challenges and opportunities facing African women’s organizing today?
Kiio: The internet, new media or social media is the way to go in terms of providing new opportunities that women can tap into in terms of information. I have been involved in mentoring women leaders to utilise citizen journalism tools in telling stories the women’s movement is facing. However, the main challenge is that women actors are exposed to online insecurity as they are cyber bullied, have their data hacked and face various internet offences.
However, all is not lost as there are now tools that can help women protect themselves online.
Question: What is your message for any young women interested in political leadership?
Kiio: Go for it but please do not give room for people to regret having allowed a woman to take up a leadership position. You need to do your best to impact the change that will keep reminding people why they need more women as political leaders.
Question: One thing you should not forget about your personal leadership journey?
Kiio: That I was able to make a positive contribution towards a person thinking differently on a certain aspect of their life and utilizing it. What would be even greater is if this thought/change would go a step further in impacting their society positively.
AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) for Women’s Leadership programme run by the Institute of International Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office..