As a woman, you must have boundaries from early on, because it becomes very hard to claim them later.
Mrs. Zebib S. Kavuma is an accomplished development advocate working to improve the status of women in Africa. She has over 20 years’ expertise in diverse development work including gender, reproductive health and rights, peace-building and conflict resolution as well as HIV/AIDS. She was appointed as the Country Director of UN Women in Kenya in July 2011, where she leads and oversees the gender equality and women’s empowerment portfolio for the UN in Kenya. She is currently the Deputy Country Director of UN Women for Eastern and Southern Africa.
An ardent advocate of women’s rights and women’s empowerment, she has worked closely with governments, civil society and the private sector to spearhead major social transformation efforts to address the socio-economic and cultural drivers of gender inequalities in Africa.
Mrs. Kavuma holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia University in New York, and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Industrial Psychology from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. The 50 year old mother of 3 shares insights from her journey with Damaris Agweyu.
When did you first realise that we live in a prejudiced world?
When I was 7 years old, the revolution had broken out in Ethiopia and my family fled to Kenya. My parents took me to the German school where I got to interact with all kinds of people from all over the world. I was this black Ethiopian girl in a European education system, and in my school environment, there were very few Africans – in a school of about 100 there were maybe 10 African students. The rest were from European countries, mostly Germany. It was in this environment that I started seeing subtle differences between people. I wasn’t conscious to know that certain things were happening because of race relations. I could, however, see that some people treated me differently. I could see others being treated differently. I just thought, maybe that person is not a nice person, or whatever. Over the years I came to learn that yes, we are different and treat each other differently.
Why a German school in the first place?
In Ethiopia it was one of the few good schools that promoted Amharic, which is the Ethiopian language. Students also got to learn a foreign language and my parents felt it was a bonus to have some kind of extra language. I had just started school in Ethiopia when the revolution broke out, so when we ended up in Kenya, it made sense for me to continue with the German school here. I did eventually move from the German school to ISK (The International School of Kenya) which had a completely different mix – more Canadians and Americans, less Europeans and more Africans than what I was used to, but still not too many. The culture was, again, very different. The way we were studying and interacting was different. I also started seeing the different dynamics between boys and girls. In my family, we are 2 boys and 2 girls and my parents generally encouraged us to do whatever we wanted to do and because the majority of our lives was spent outside of Ethiopia, we were freer to experiment and explore…so we were not typical in that sense.
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