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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 23 November, 2014

Opinion: Equality and social justice for women is my life’s work

In the run-up to Africa Day, Salome Mbugua discusses her social justice work in Ireland and various African countries.

Salome Mbugua,

I WAS BORN in a rural Kenyan village and baptised by an Irish missionary priest, Pat O’Toole, at the age of two. My father was a school teacher and my mother was a farmer. There were nine of us children in the family, and at the age of seven, I moved from my parent’s home to live with my grandmother to support her with my ailing and paralysed grandfather. I really enjoyed my childhood and youth supporting my grandmother, picking coffee, fetching firewood in the forest and collecting water from the river.

I came to Ireland in 1994 to continue my studies in Kimmage Manor and University College Dublin. I hold a certificate in Women’s Studies and a master’s degree in Equality Studies from the University College Dublin. I have also received a national diploma in Development Studies from the Kimmage Manor Development Study Centre. It was in Kimmage Manor that I met my husband Eamonn, and we were later married in Nairobi.

My life’s work

Equality and social justice for women is my life’s work. After completing social work training at Kobujoi Social Development Training Institute in Kenya, I was employed by Undugu Society of Kenya, a non-governmental organisation, as a social worker and spent four years working on rehabilitation of street girls from the slums of Nairobi.

Eamonn and I worked in Uganda with the Irish Foundation for Cooperative Development, where I helped local women in the rural district of Rakai to establish a community based organisation, Women Enterprises Association of Rakai (WEAR) in 1997. The group worked to address the social and economic effects of HIV/Aids and poverty in the Kalisizo, Uganda, it grew from three to 327 members and 22 regional groups at last count. This showed to be a successful template that I used later in Ireland for the establishment of AkiDwA - the migrant women’s Network in Ireland.

Community development

In Ireland, I have worked in various community development jobs and, as a consultant, I have developed and delivered training programmes on Gender, Racism, Equality, Diversity and Migration.

In 2001, I set up AkiDwA – the Migrant Women’s Network in Ireland, which has since grown to 2,500 individual members from 35 countries of origin and 36 affiliate organisations, and is a representative body for migrant women, irrespective of their national/ethnic background, tradition, religious beliefs, socio-economic or legal status. We promote equal opportunity and access to rights and services in Ireland. AkiDwA has become a leading advocate and authoritative voice for migrant women living in Ireland and has been influencing policy on different areas of migrant’s life, specifically on the establishment of the female genital mutilation act 2012 and policy on health and Gender-Based Violence.

I believe that the African Diaspora has a huge role to play in the development of the African Continent. In 2010, together with my colleague Egide Dhala, I established Wezesha – an initiative of Africa diaspora for international development. Since then, we have been working in two African countries (DR Congo and Kenya), supporting women who are victims of conflict and violence.

Women’s role in conflict management

In 2010, I was also selected to be the vice chair of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and on that same year I was selected to represent Ireland for two months on Eisenhower Women’s Leadership Programme in Philadelphia, USA. In addition, I am the chairperson of the Kenya Society of Ireland.

I also sit in the advisory and monitoring group with the Department of Foreign Affairs on the National Action Plan on Resolution 1325, created by the UN Security Council, which addresses the inordinate impact of war on women and the pivotal role women should and do play in conflict management, resolution and peace.

I am honoured to be involved with the Africa Day celebrations here in Ireland, which I have been working with since 2008. The annual Africa Day activities are a wonderful, positive way to celebrate the continent of Africa and its people through promoting African culture and community here in Ireland.

Salome Mbugu is an activist and equality & social justice campaigner.

Africa Day celebrations, supported by Irish Aid, are taking place nationwide this week and the national Africa Day flagship family festival takes place in Farmleigh Estate, Phoenix Park, Dublin 15, on Sunday 25 May from 11am to 6pm and is free of charge. Follow Africa Day on Facebook and Twitter @AfricaDay #AfricaDay. For more information visit www.africaday.ie.

More stories from the African community in Ireland>

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