18-year-old Mary stepped into the shoes of Hon. Joe Mucheru, EGH - Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs. Accompanied by Faith, 20 and Alice, 19, Mary was able to understand how the Ministry works and the role of the Cabinet Secretary.
“As a girl advocate, I ask that the government work together with other partners to create more awareness on what the law says and how it protects victims of online harassment, including information on available helplines where these incidences can be reported,” said Mary.
“In addition to this, many girls and young women are left out because they are unable to access various digital platforms as internet connectivity continues to be a problem in many parts of Kenya. Our plea as young people is that digital access is prioritised even to under privileged communities and while this happens, online safety MUST be ensured.”
As the government, we are willing and ready to work with girls to help them realise that they have the power to achieve what they want.
In a press briefing, Mary challenged the ministry to take a pledge that will ensure online safety for girls and young women so they are #FreeToBeOnline. This was later done by having all parties sign the Open Letter written by girls to social media companies.
“I wish there were more days that engaged girls like this so that girls can come and have such experiences. As the government, we are willing and ready to work with girls to help them realise that they have the power to achieve what they want,” Hon. Joe Mucheru said.
20-year-old Stephany, co-hosted a show that airs on Citizen TVs Facebook page called #TheDisruption. The show which is originally hosted by Waihiga Mwaura focuses on issues that affect the day-to-day lives of Kenyans. Through the show, Plan International was able to drive the conversation on #FreeToBeOnline and this gave Stephany the opportunity to speak up on behalf of thousands of girls across the country. It also gave her an opportunity to experience what it feels like to be a journalist/show host.
The conversation was shaped by celebrities who have experienced online harassment; Avril, Azziad, Adelle Onyango, Linda Nyangweso and Vivian as well as authorities and organisations like like the Department of Criminal Investigations, Communications Authority of Kenya, Plan International and a Psychologist who gave expert perspective on the topic, giving insights on what needs to be done to ensure that girls and young women are safe online.
It was evident that Kenya does have laws that safeguard online users however the majority of online users are not aware of these laws. This calls for more opportunities to create awareness on identifying and preserving evidence as well as available reporting mechanisms.
Canadian High Commision Girls Takeover
Sumaya, 15, a girl advocate from Kilifi took over the Canadian High Commissioner’s office. As acting Canadian High Commissioner for the day, Sumayya started her duties by officiating the launch of a COVID-19 wall mural at Jericho where commended the artists for the work they were doing in awareness creation through art. She later had an indoor session on social media where she was able to tweet using the Canadian official twitter handle.
“Social media is very important to us as it ensures access to education materials. I hope the government can ensure safety for online users as well as provide easy access to young people who are in rural areas,” she said. Sumaya was also hosted for lunch at the Canada residence where she advocated on some of the key issues girls face when it comes to online harassment citing examples from this year’s theme of #FreeToBeOnline.
The Royal Danish Girls Takeover
Cynthia, 23, stepped into the shoes of the Royal Danish Ambassador, Ole Thonke. The young 'Ambassador' proceeded to visit Federation International De Abogadas (FIDA) and Gender Based Violence Recovery Centre, (GBVRC), who are key partners of the embassy in championing for gender equality. She got to understand how both entities work to ensure safety and justice for girls and young women.
“Having Cynthia take over has been very inspiring and informative. It has given me a chance to understand some of the issues that girls and young women continue to face,” Ole Thonke said.
Cynthia, who is a girl advocate under the Safe and Inclusive Cities programme, got to highlight some the project’s work while in Kibera. “Taking over the ambassadors’ seat has showed me that girls can take up big roles and make a change in the world.” She also spoke on the need for girls and young women to take up social media platforms but learn to be careful and use them in the correct way.
Swedish Embassy Takeover
17-year-old Esther stepped into the shoes of Ambassador Caroline. Esther got the opportunity to understand what it actually takes to be in a position of leadership. In her interaction with Ambassador Caroline, she was able to understand the role of a High Commissioner as well as the role that embassies get to play in different countries.
“Ambassador Caroline was very nice and kind to me and it helped me realise that it is possible to be in a powerful position of leadership. I know that this experience will also encourage other girls and young women to dream big,” said Esther
An office tour was part of what Esther was able to experience and later on there was a one-on-one session with the Ambassador which also doubled up as a mentorship session.
Astrazeneca Girl Takeover
23-year-old Nancy, a Young Health Programme peer educator shadowed Dr. Arpit Bansal, the Astra Zeneca Director for Sub-Sahara Africa. She joined Dr. Arpits’ virtual meeting at AstraZeneca Kenya Office where she was able to chair the meeting. She briefed the team members on how she has been directly passing information on prevention of NCDs to fellow young people in Kibera using zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is an honour by both Plan International Kenya and AstraZeneca Kenya to believe in a girl like me and to encourage me that in my small way, I can change the world. They have opened my eyes and showed me that I can sit in a seat of responsibility and decision making. I have come to understand that I have that power within me. I am going to stir it up," she said.
Dr. Arpit Bansal, added, “My seat has been shadowed before and I am glad that I could do it again this year. I am usually excited by campaigns like #GirlsTakeover because it gives girls opportunities to showcase to the world their potential. It also motivates them that this is a world that is full of possibilities and they should pursue their dreams.’’
This year’s takeover in Kisumu County was conducted at the Office of the County Director of Gender Affairs by 21- year-old Brenda Akinyi. When Brenda took over the Gender Office, she addressed the rampant online harassment targeted at girls which goes unreported.
“I witness a lot of hate speech targeted at girls on social media and it is regarded as normal, none of us know that such forms of harassment should be reported and how they should do so. I would like the Gender Office to put provisions in place to address online harassment and its effects,” she said.
She requested that girls should be educated on the risks of constantly sharing personal information about themselves on social media platforms. “I am joining Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University this month to pursue a Bachelors of Education and I will be an advocate of #FreeToBeOnline,” she added.
This year’s celebration was crowned by girls’ takeovers with a total of 4 girls taking over 4 offices including Homa Bay PU Manager, County Information Officer and two MCAs.
Hon. Nereah Oketch who won the Ms. President Reality show, acknowledged that girls in the county have gone through serious problems and she is pushing for the enactment of child-friendly policies in the county. She promised to remain committed in ensuring equality for girls is upheld.
Girls who took over MCAs seats were privileged to be taken through all the offices headed by women including the office of the County Speaker. “This is a rare opportunity, I have learnt a lot, I feel inspired to work hard and in future work in similar offices. I also thank Plan International for organising this and request them to do it quarterly so that many girls can benefit,” Lucy said after takeover.
This year's celebration took place at Lulu FM where a girl advocate, Nisha, accompanied by Elizabeth, took over as the presenter at Lulu FM in their morning segment show dubbed ‘Teens Connect’ - a show which airs content that focuses on the wellbeing of teenagers.
The radio show gave them a platform to air their views as girls and also create more awareness on online harassment and propose ways they could be safe online including having a girls' app where girls and young women could connect and talk about the issues they face in their communities.
Additionally, through mentorship training sessions, select girls were able to come up with different songs, poems and speeches which highlighted their experiences of online harassment.
Plan International through Kilifi PU engaged LULU FM media house to record and air these poems and songs. This created more awareness in the rest of the community on why we celebrate the International Day of the Girl and also shone light on the abuse, harassment and violence girls and young women face on social media.
The End Child Marriage Network Kenya (ECMNKe) comprising about 50 youth-focused and youth-led national and county-level Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), marked the International Day of the Girl on 9th October 2020 at KCB Leadership Center. The theme of the day was dubbed ‘Sauti Yangu, Future Yangu’.
The day saw a panel of 6 girls aged 18- 24 alongside a panel of experts comprising of government officers and CSOs address issues affecting girls. They committed to enhance coordination on issues affecting children. “If you have self-drive nobody can stop you from achieving your dreams,” Stella, a child marriage survivor remarked after sharing her story of how she walked out of her marriage in pursuit of education.
Prior to the event, girls from different counties participated in webinars where they shared issues affecting them like FGM, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and how COVID-19 aggravated the situation.
Young people went through a series of online training sessions ahead of the International Day of the Girl. The virtual training brought together about 65 participants who were able to learn about gender, social media, ending teenage pregnancies, online harassment and freedom online and the role of the law in protecting children from any form of harm.
By the end of the sessions, the young people were able to express their thoughts and concerns, they also learnt about the various reporting mechanisms. The young people gave recommendation on what more needs to be done including calling upon the county government and the media to create more awareness on the importance of #FreeToBeOnline.
Taking over the office of Chief Officer of Social Welfare and Civic Empowerment for Machakos County was Patricia, a girl advocate who was able to mobilise and train youth on online safety, cyber bullying and reporting procedures. She made a special emphasis on utilising online platforms especially for girls and young women with special needs.
“I speak for girls and young women across this country and most specifically for the ones with disabilities, It is important that we ensure that even they are protected from any form of harm,” said Patricia.
20-year-old Jackline took over the airwaves of Getu FM and read the 9pm prime time news. “For the longest time I have been listening to Getu FM over the radio not knowing where the studios are, what the studios looks like and what my favourite news anchor looks like as well. But today I got the chance to takeover the seat of my favourite news anchor and to do what he does every 9pm. I thank God because for me this is a dream come true.”
Various other young people also got opportunities to plug in to the freedom online conversation among other issues that affect girls in the community such as FGM, early marriages, teenage pregnancies and defilement issues. These discussions happened on Thiiri FM, Tuliza FM, Meru TV, Getu FM and Meru FM.