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International Women’s Day: Q&A with Sharon Onyango

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8 to celebrate the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women. The theme for the year 2023 is #EmbraceEquity.

This year, SEI’s Sharon Onyango shares her experience at SEI and what this day means on a personal level.

Sharon Anyango Onyango, Lawrence Nzuve / Published on 8 March 2023
SEI early career researcher Sharon Onyango

SEI early career researcher Sharon Onyango. Photo: Sharon Onyango/SEI


What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

IWD is momentous in celebrating our diversity as women and our contributions to promoting gender equality. For researchers, this day is a reminder of how imperative it is to promote gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) both in our academic work and beyond. It also presents opportunities to reflect on the progress already made, while recognizing the work that still lies ahead. Individuals and organizations need to work together to create an equitable world for everyone, regardless of their gender.

Why do you support women’s empowerment and gender equality?

I believe both issues are paramount in achieving a peaceful, just, and prosperous world for all. Despite making up almost half of the world population, women, oftentimes, still face marginalization and discrimination, limiting their potential and opportunities for socio-economic growth. Empowering women ensures that they get equal access to education, employment, and leadership positions while participating fully in decision-making processes and all aspects of society. To me, supporting gender equality means creating more inclusive and diverse societies for everyone. In research, it ensures that distinct perspectives and voices can contribute to significant scientific and technological advancements.

As a woman, how have you progressed in your career at SEI?

Being an early career researcher under the sustainable urbanization programme, SEI has played a significant role in my professional growth. It presents diverse equal opportunities, where I have personally taken part in high-level stakeholder engagements, conducted challenging yet informative multi-sectoral research projects, produced, and published evidence-based research outputs, broadened my professional network within and beyond the industry, trained on relevant scientific software, while continuously developing my personal and professional skills.

What progress have you seen on gender equality in your work at SEI?

Concerning the general employee statistics, based on the gender ratios, the number of women, particularly at SEI Africa Centre, is at least one-third of the total number of employees. Further, the centre’s gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) policy outlines specific actions to promote gender balance in its research, leadership, and organizational culture. A case in point is the research I recently conducted with colleagues on sanitation in informal settlements of Nairobi, in which GESI was a key approach. This was one among many examples of research work at SEI that has advocated for gender-responsive policies in environmental decision-making within its diverse research areas. In my view, the organization’s commitment to GESI makes it a trailblazer in advancing these approaches through sustainable development research.

Can you share with us an example of women’s empowerment that inspires you?

Well, one inspiring moment in Kenya, for me, was the passing of the two-thirds gender rule in Kenya’s parliament in 2017, which ensured that at least one third of the country’s leadership should be made up of women. This was a testament to the resilience and willpower of Kenyan women, serving as an inspiration for further efforts to promote GESI in all sectors of society. I can mention a few other recent inspirational moments, both regionally and globally: in 2021 Kenya’s first female Chief Justice, Hon. Lady Justice Martha Koome was appointed, as was the first female president of Tanzania, Her Excellency Samia Suluhu and Her Excellency Kamala Harris became the first Black-American vice president of the United States. In 2018, Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde became the first female president of Ethiopia,  and in 2004 our very own iconic environmental activist, the late Professor Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

What is your personal International Women’s Day message?

Every effort counts in promoting gender equity and equality, regardless of the magnitude. And, though there is notable progress, much more needs to be done in advocating for actions and policies that promote GESI. It is important to support and uplift women from marginalized communities who are facing all forms of unlawful discrimination. We must also acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of women from all fields and walks of life. Let us collectively work towards creating a world where women and girls can realize their full potential while pursuing their goals and aspirations. I am, because we are. Happy International Women’s Day 2023!

Topics and subtopics
Gender : Participation
Related centres
SEI Africa

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