By Wanjiru Kihusa
About a month ago I attended a training session on Op-ed writing. It was at Pawa254 in Nairobi and was dubbed ‘Sauti Ya Dada’ which loosely translates into the voice of women. I had an amazing time meeting women writers who were passionate about the state of affairs in Kenya and wanted to know how they can get involved in shaping opinions using their writing. The trainer, Nanjala did a splendid job not only teaching us on how to structure an Op-ed and how to pitch our work to editors but also challenging us to come out and add our voice to issues happening in Kenya and in Africa.
I left having learnt so much. I am better at my writing now because of that session. I structure my blog pieces better. I research into issues before I talk about them because having an opinion is not enough, you have to back it up with some sort of evidence. Other than learning how to write Op-eds I picked up something that has completely changed my attitude as a woman writer. I realized that I have something to say. I figured out that women issues matter and I should use my skills as a writer to talk about them.
I have noticed something. Every time someone asks me what I do and I say I am a blogger they get excited. They look proud to meet me. Then when they ask what I write about and I say I write about marriage and family issues they are no longer so impressed. They may not show it openly but I can sense disappointment and sometimes even veiled disapproval. It is like they wish I’d write about something more “serious”.
I have always noticed this reaction, especially among men but I had never really known how to explain it until I attended this session. In the course of our discussion we began talking about how politics and economic issues are always seen as hard issues and are always taken seriously. They are the kind of news that make headlines in newspapers. Then matters on fashion and relationships are deemed as soft issues and are almost naturally targeted to a female audience. These issues are rarely taken seriously.
This reasoning is faulty and cannot be further away from the truth. Relationships, fashion and other ‘female’ topics are as heavy matters as the rest of them. They affect (or should affect) policies as much as any other matter. And here is why I think so.
When we look at the weight of things like world peace and politics, family topics look pale in comparison. They sound like light things to talk about. Yet, in times of war, our families are the ones that suffer. When the Kenyan government passes a law that allows for polygamy then dismisses a bill on gender based violence, that directly affects family relationships. When the police on road safety are not implemented and a man dies in accident, it his family that loses their bread winner and their lives are completely changed. It is families that get affected by health polices, whether good or bad. How then can family issues be dismissed as a ‘soft’ issue?
This realization has completely changed my attitude about the things I write about. I now know that what I write about is as heavy as politics. Because of this I now raise my points with confidence. I am proud to say what I do regardless of what people think of it. And that is what I want to challenge you my fellow women. Your issues are important, they are valid. So talk about them; raise them in the best way you know how. It doesn’t matter whether you are a writer, orator, singer, doctor, teacher or whatever it is that you do. Even if you are a stay at home mom, raise your voice and be heard. You are the ones that interact with your children closely and know what things affect them. Let us speak out until we affect policy.