Activist, advocate, leader and United Nations youth advisor – this is Vivian Onano. Her passions are investing in young individuals and fighting for gender equality and government empowerment. Raised in Kisumu of Kenya, Vivian has always had a strong desire to learn and remains dedicated to the importance of education. Recently, we sat down with Vivian to find out more about her life, thoughts on women’s leadership and goals for the future.
What type of leadership roles are you currently involved in?
Currently I am a youth adviser to UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group, a young leader with Women Deliver, a project leader for Africa to point project, and a global youth advocate for Mara Mentors.
What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your life and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, growing up in poverty was very challenging for me. Even if you are a strong person it can demotivate you and it can make you lose your self confidence. What kept me going was the fact that I have always wanted a better life for myself, I wanted a better life for my brothers because I love my brothers dearly. I knew that I was getting a rare opportunity to go to school and have the kind of support I was getting at the time. It was up to me to take advantage of the opportunity and become a better person in the community.
Do you feel women are given equal opportunities in Kenya?
That’s a very tricky question. I don’t think women are respected as leaders in Kenya. You’ve seen women nominated to cabinet positions, and the media asks questions about her marriage status or the places she has been to and who she has been with. They are very petty questions that really don’t assess leadership skills and capabilities.
What do you think should be done to increase women’s participation in leadership and to increase positive opinions about women in leadership?
We have to learn to share our stories and share the stories of women leaders as a way of inspiring and encouraging. Showcase the success that women have achieved and the male counterpart to respect women as leaders, see them as equal partners when it comes to achieving sustainable development in prosperity for our country because they cannot do it alone. For a long time they have been in these positions and we have not seen any result, so why don’t we bring, fresh brain, fresh minds, fresh opinions to the table and see what we can achieve together.
Do you have any advice for promising young women leaders or who would like to be a leader but due to some reasons, is not so confident and courageous?
First of all it starts with taking your education seriously. I am the person that I am today because the investment in education that the people made in my life. Without my education I don’t think I would have heard a voice of my own, I don’t think I would be the person that I am today. So you have to first take your education seriously and develop a voice of your own build on your self confidence, believe in yourself. Don’t let your family background or family status deter you from being the woman you aspire to be.