Defying Culture in the Fight for Equality

Story - 2019-03-04
Grace Lolim is no ordinary woman. A strong feminist in one of the most patriarchal regions in Kenya, this grassroots activist spends her days advocating for gender quality and respect for human rights.
Portrait of Grace Lolim in a orange dress, the background is a wallpaper of red leaves.

Grace says her passion for the equality struggle was largely informed by her upbringing in her Turkana community where women have long been marginalised and are not being heard.

Grace was however propelled to activism in 2000 during the battle between the Somali and the Borana, where her actions at the time made her stand out as a woman champion for peace and gender equality.

Grace had been appointed by other women to speak during a conflict mitigation meeting, the only woman designated to speak at the meeting. So when her turn came, she stood up and narrated the cause of the conflicts and even going ahead to mention the culprits by name, some who held very influential positions.

- This was not the norm then, no one dared tell the authorities what had fueled the conflict but I spoke confidently and reported the perpetrators. 

Everyone left the meeting including my allies who thought that I would be shot dead, but this did not happen.

This incident marked the beginning of her work as a fearless rights activist in the conflict-prone county.

Motivated by the plight of women who had been sidelined for long, Grace became an advocate for women’s rights picking issues from girl child education, gender-based violence to women representation in local committees. The feedback from her community, especially amongst the menfolk, was, predictably, negative, with her being labelled uncultured and arrogant. But with women, she got a lot of positive reception and encouragement with many even bringing cases and issues to her for advise and action.

Grace Lolim standing in a staircase while the sun is giving a soft light.

With the significance of her activism efforts growing, Grace founded the Isiolo Gender Watch, a local community-based organisation that advocates for gender equality and human rights in Isiolo Kenya, which has grown into an effective platform for raising women’s voices.

One of my greatest achievements I must say is the inclusion of women in the Councils of Elders.

More women in politics

Her efforts have paid off richly. Councils of Elders are influential tradition decision-making structures whose decisions and recommendations are often binding to the communities. Most of these councils are historically and predominantly men.

Grace and her group lobbied hard and secured the first endorsement of a woman to run for political seats which eventually contributed to the election of the first woman senator for Isiolo, Hon. Fatuma Dullo.

I am motivated by the results and positive changes am contributing to. That’s what drives me. I don’t give too much focus to the threats. They are part of this struggle.

Isiolo has also seen a rising number of women vying for political positions which Grace attributes to the new awakening by women due to long awareness and empowerment campaigns activists like her have contributed.

Grace also regards her inspiring new generations of grassroots women activists, motivated by her story and courage.  

- A society that is to develop well, no section of it should be left behind, be it women or youth. All must be able to contribute and have a voice in decision-making and development processes.

However, despite all these successes, the journey has neither been smooth sailing nor is the fight over. Lolim admits she has encountered many challenges which ranged from exclusion from leadership positions, political intimidation, insults to threats of violence.

Women’s rights are human rights!

Unfortunately the obvious statement is far from reality. Still in 2019 women face systematic discrimination of their rights and liberties every day in every country. Women and organisations who stand up for their rights and challenge patriarchal norms faces a lot resistance, in many times we are harassed and threatened.

To commemorate International Women’s Day Forum Syd highlight inspirational women who show that together we have the power to change! 

Read our series "Women change the world" of inspiring women's rights activists:

Belarus: Protecting the environment with art.
Colombia: The story of Jani Silva - a rebel from the heart.
Cambodia: "Being a young girl wont stop me", Song Rany an emerging leader.
Liberia: Betty Breeze Doh, standing up for thousands of women in Liberia.
Somalia: Kaltun Sheikh Hassan challenges old norms and practices.
Sweden: Lovette Jallow is fighting racism in Sweden.

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