Dr. Asha Mohammed, a Nubian, grew up in Kibra, a constituency in Nairobi County which includes several adjoining estates and majorly so-the largest urban slum in Africa. The expectation for young girls and women in her community was centered around home-making. Marrying off a girl was a prestigious crown for families. However, dr. Asha’s journey was different. She dreamed of a life that was not dictated by the norms of her social surrounding. She wanted to be different.
“I always wanted to be a health professional. It started with the book ‘Truphena the City nurse’. I loved the main character whose calling it was to help people in her community. I didn’t care so much whether it was being a doctor or a nurse, what mattered was how to get there - something that influenced the subjects I picked in school.”
– Dr. Asha Mohammed, Kenya
“She never got to pursue her dreams”
Dr. Asha defied the odds and picked education as a route to chart her own path. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her father, who rolled up his sleeves and supported her to become the women she is today. He gave her the best education he could afford at the time, risking the preying eyes from people who wondered why he cared to educate a girl. The support of her father, fired her up to actively mentor young girls and women in her community.
“I saw many girls that could have been many things, but their lives had to be cut short because they had to get married. One particular case that moved me was that of a young lady who emerged the top in the country in one of our National Examinations and a month later she was married off. She never got to pursue her dreams. Her potential to contribute to the society was cut off.”
This happened frequently. Dr. Asha decided to actively do something both at individual capacity and in groups. She is part of several women groups in Kibra who meet up once a month to discuss issues affecting both women and girls and to plug into the different areas of offering sustainable support.
“Some years ago we came up with the idea to start a foundation that focusses on educational excellence. We award students who excel in primary and secondary school level national examinations. But we also work together with university students and encourage them to do mentorships for younger people in our community during the holidays. Today we can proudly say that we have all cadres of professions, ranging from doctors, lawyers and engineers.”
“In addition, I have been particularly interested in working with girls. Through this foundation, together with colleagues, we formed a group where we can offer mentorships by assigning ourselves to girls who we walk with in all matters of education and social issues. In that way we want to ensure a sustainable, all rounded development.”
– Dr. Asha Mohammed, Kenya
“I hope that the girls I am mentoring can see that it is possible to be in leadership positions in this country and that they can do it too”
Dr. Asha was recently named the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross, rising from a girl whose heart was passionate for service, to a woman who seeks to develop herself and those around her.
She has extensive experience within the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement where she has worked in Kenya and internationally in various leadership capacities. She has served as the Head of Operations at IFRC’s Africa Zone office in Johannesburg, Head of Eastern Africa zone office in Nairobi and Movement Partnerships Advisor at ICRC, among others.
“This Secretary General position, I don’t do it for myself. I see it as an opportunity for many others like me. For example, in my Kibra community, I hope that the girls I am mentoring can see that it is possible to be in leadership positions in this country and that they can do it too.”
Dr. Asha emphasizes that leaders fail because they don’t listen to the voices of those who are affected. They sit in boardrooms and make decisions for them, which most of the time don’t fit. That’s a narrative she wants to change.
“I don’t want to forget the voices of those who really matter. Within Kenya Red Cross I can say that our backbone are our volunteers. Without the volunteers we cannot deliver our mandate and the National Society would not be where it is today. I intend to create platforms where volunteers can come and feel that there is a safe space to express what they need, rather than us subscribing them on what we think they should do. We have 150.000 members and volunteers and eighty per cent of those are young people, so where are the voices of the eighty per cent? That’s what I really want to do, bring those voices from the ground.”
– Dr. Asha Mohammed, Kenya
“Women can be anything”
“Can girls and women have it all, you ask yourself?”
“As women we should count ourselves privileged that we can play multiple roles in all spheres of life. You can be a career woman, a professional, a leader, a mother and a wife. We can be anything. It’s about accepting that this is what we are. We can do it all, it can be a bit difficult to balance, especially when trying to climb up in our career ladder. But no side has to suffer. Take each role and do it at your best. Whether it is as a mother, as a wife or as a career woman.”
“Girls should not feel that they need to choose- you can have the best of all of it. Never forget that.”
7 young women for every 10 young men complete upper secondary school in low-income countries. If we want more future female leaders, we need to close the gender gap in education.