This month we are spotlighting the remarkable advocacy work of Hillary from Siaya Muungano Network, a member organization of our Siaya Working group. This is part of the #YouthAlivePersonsofTheMonth series aimed at highlighting young leaders from our youth networks who are transforming their communities.
Here is a riveting interview we held with him. Read and get inspired!
“Who is Hillary?”
Hillary is a youth advocate from Siaya County. He is the Programs Coordinator at Siaya Muungano Network, a young women’s rights, and youth development organization.
He is a self–driven individual who believes in empowering his fellow youth, young women, girls, and community to drive their agenda. He has over 5 years of experience in organization development and management, youth empowerment, civic education, grass-roots mobilization and organizing, budget advocacy and accountability, social accountability, advocacy for women and youth voices, and SRHR advocacy.
Currently, he leads Power to Youth (PTY) Project in Siaya which aims at reducing inequalities experienced by Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYWs), promoting progressive social norms in the community, and realization of SRHR for young people, especially AGYWs.
With vast experience in strategic thinking, leadership, and advocating for meaningful youth participation, he is the current representative for PTY –Kenya Country Management Team in the Global Management Team, a governing structure for PTY Project, and the representative for Siaya Working Group in the National Steering Committee under Youth Alive! Kenya.
He has a background in Environmental Science. His engagement in rural development and advocacy space has exposed him to different opportunities and training that have greatly enhanced his capacity in community work and created networks for peer-to-peer learning.
For him, Siaya Muungano Network an organization that he founded, reflects his bigger dream of creating a self-sustaining community and he believes that the small efforts he is making will contribute to his dream and broader vision of making women and youth agenda work for their benefit beyond Siaya”
“When and why did you start advocating about county budgets and SRHR?”
“My engagement in matters SRHR targeting youth and adolescents started way back in 2010 after finalizing high school. During those days, there were emerging discussions at the community level on behavior change, especially for the youth due to the rising cases of HIV and STI infections among the youth and school drop-outs by young girls in primary and secondary schools in Siaya due to teenage pregnancy. I looked at my community and thought of what I can do to change the narrative and contribute to social transformation for the youth and adolescent boys and girls in my community. I resolved to join a community-based organization present in my area as a peer educator where I was able to empower the youth and adolescents about behavior change and sexual reproductive health through community and school outreach activities.
This inspired me to support a group of young girls who founded a girls’ group called, “Nyiri Mondisore Youth Group’ in the same year where I could also work together with them to promote menstrual hygiene for the girls and knit reusable sanitary pads that we could distribute to those vulnerable girls during the outreaches.
My efforts to advance the advocacy agenda on SRHR in Siaya were triggered even more by the current challenges faced by Adolescent Girls and Young Women in Siaya to access sexual reproductive health services — including family planning services—the gaps in accessing Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) that would enable AGYW’s acquire body autonomy and make informed decisions, the current trends in defilement of the girl child in Siaya, teenage pregnancies, Gender-Based Violence and the mismatch in priorities by the County Government of Siaya (Department of Health) to develop and allocate resources for programs that aim at the realization of sexual reproductive health rights for the youth and AGYW’s.
My broader vision as a youth advocate in the SRHR space in Siaya has always been to see a system that has a sense of value for our youth and adolescent towards accessing SRH services and information and putting in place frameworks that promote and support the financing of SRH services and activities.
Secondly, in terms of budget advocacy, my strong interest started in 2017 when I realized that it is necessary to engage in government processes to influence service delivery and bring the youth’s voice into the budget-making spaces for them to have their empowerment plans/needs factored in County Government planning.
What further touched me was the emerging complaints and experiences my community would raise concerning poor services they encountered in the County. These issues included a lack of drugs in health facilities where communities spent a lot of money in private pharmacies, poor workmanship in the projects done, and prioritization of projects that were not community-driven. Other issues that attracted me to budget advocacy work in Siaya were the corruption in public resources and gaps in civic awareness for the community in budget matters that made them not effectively play their oversight role as citizens.
The engagement in budget advocacy work has made me grow into a critical stakeholder through Siaya Muungano Network and other platforms. I now add value to the work of the County Government of Siaya through stronger civic engagement —organizing youth and women to put their voices into county planning processes.
This is not only in budgets but also in the development of other policies and legislations and in promoting civic awareness to the youth and women in Siaya.”
“What do you think is the role of men in contributing to gender transformation?”
“While the initial focus on the advancement of women and girls was exclusively on women and girls as a separate group, it has become evident in the current efforts that information and data on women and girls without comparison with the situation of men are not useful.
I am using the below two case studies as my urgent points on the role of men in contributing to gender transformation,
My first example is on the achievement of reproductive health goals, an area involving intimate relations between women and men. While we are making several efforts to train AGYWs in our community on their reproductive health needs and provided access to reproductive health services such as contraceptives, full utilization of the information and services by AGYWs will only be possible if men and boys are also made aware of the need for change and engaged in the process. This is particularly so in a society like ours in Siaya where men have for a long period had control over family decision-making, including family size and access to contraceptives.
A second example I have experienced in my community is in empowerment efforts such as giving women access to income-generating activities and cash a good example is the “Give Direct Project” and Saving Schemes in the community have led to a backlash, including increased violence against women since men are never or either provided limited attention in the change process and they have felt their role as “family provider” and “head of household” was being undermined. This is particularly problematic in areas/households where men themselves have had difficulties accessing employment or other income-generating activities since issues of male status and prestige came into play.
Therefore, based on the above casing scenarios I have shared, I have an idea that our role in gender transformation needs to consider the following;
Sharing of family responsibilities: There is wide recognition of the need to increase our participation in domestic work and family responsibilities by encouraging the reconciliation of family and working life for both men and women
We need to be agents of change in the workplace: We men have an important role in promoting women’s economic rights and independence, including control of economic resources and full participation in decision-making. As male leaders, we can provide positive role models on gender equality by introducing anti-discrimination measures and gender-inclusive decision-making and combating sexual harassment in the workplace.
Share our platform and support women and girls in taking the lead: it is our role, as progressive boys and men, to share those spaces that patriarchy has granted us and promote girls’ and women’s leadership.
We need to show solidarity: We must stand with women and girls in their daily struggles for the eradication of patriarchal issues so they may have access to equal freedom, equal respect, and equal power in our society.”
“What challenges have you faced in this work?”
“The work I do requires a lot of resources and support since it involves reaching out to the youth, women, and girls in their set-up, accessing information, developing IEC materials, and even supporting emerging needs that affect my target group. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to accomplish some of my planned ambitions and I only have to handle what is within my capability. This leaves me in a dilemma sometimes on what I can do better to address my target group’s needs.
In some instances, this advocacy work in either budget or SRHR requires systems support in regards to putting in place frameworks by the duty bearers that would sustain the changes needed, however, this has not been a smooth way in Siaya as a lot is still in gaps and therefore, it means some changes already made are easily lost
Victimization is also a challenge especially in my budget accountability work as leaders view me as someone who is against them especially when I have highlighted corruption or poor services. A good example is when we highlighted poor services at Mulaha Dispensary as a result of the scorecard exercise that Youth Alive Kenya supported and further petitioned the election of a Board of Management for the same health facility.
Competition from other youth and attempts to bring me down; some of my peers are also not happy with the steps I have made as a result of the community work and they at times feel that I am building myself for a political seat. This has created a challenge in penetrating certain spaces as they are already polluted with propaganda.”
“What successes have you had/proudest moments?”
“Worked with young women and girls to start a platform called Husika Dada Initiative, an advocacy platform that has adopted the parliamentary model in their engagement. This is an innovation platform for AGYWs that they utilize to debate the issues affecting them including SRHR matters, document information and emerging issues such as access to FP commodities, GBV cases, and Teenage Pregnancy cases in the community in Siaya and use the information and data to engage with duty bearers to influence programs that contribute to the change they desire. Members in the space also use it to reach out to AGYWs in and out of school with information on mental health and menstrual hygiene. This platform is currently gaining momentum and I foresee it as a movement for Young women and girls in Siaya.
The Foundation of Siaya Muungano Network is a women’s rights and youth development organization that has recently grown into a vibrant organization in Siaya advocating for gender equality, SRHR, Climate Justice, and Good Governance. When I reflect on my journey with the organization, how it started and what it is currently impacting in the community with youth, girls and women, I see hope in my vision for the transformation of my society and creating opportunities for young women and youth. The daily growth and changes in the organization and the inspiring stories from the group we have targeted are always my proudest moments.”
“Advocating for access to Sexual Reproductive Health services and accountability in public resources for improved service delivery requires concerted efforts. Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, we can join efforts now and make a brand new ending.”
Find Hillary’s media appearances here: