Purity Wangui Muchai hails from Nakuru County, Kenya. At only 23, she has already been a student leader for the past 3 years. She heads the Women Students’ Welfare Association (WOSWA), reaching over 37,000 female students at the University of Nairobi and other campuses throughout the country. Women and Girls Lead Global’s campaign in Kenya, Women in the Red, encourages girls and women to pursue leadership opportunities by showcasing the stories of strong role models like Purity. She spoke to us about her own leadership journey.
How did you get into leadership?
My classmates encouraged me to vie for an elective position. This is after they saw how I was fighting for their rights at a class level.
I first started off as a congress lady heading an organization of about 500 students, then rose to the rank of the Secretary General of the Women Student Organization. Later I was elected as the chairperson of the Women Students’ Welfare Association (WOSWA), a position I currently hold at the University of Nairobi.
Were you confident to be a student leader, and what was your driving force?
I did not have the confidence, even to talk before people, but with time I learned, and I am still learning.
I am passionate about women and consider myself a feminist. It is these characteristics that made me fall in love with leadership and I hope to vie for a better position in the future.
What are some of the challenges you faced when vying for the different positions?
There is interference by male counterparts. Though the association is a female organization, the male students in the university want their girlfriends and friends to take up leadership positions by taking part in the elections.
Financial instability is another challenge. Reaching more than 37,000 female students spread out in different campuses is not easy. One needs to find a stable financial means to maneuver in reaching out to other members in Kisumu, Kikuyu and other campuses away from the main campus here in Nairobi.
What have you done for WOSWA since your election?
It is no secret that some female university students rely on older men, or “Sugar daddies” as they are called in urban language, to fund their education and daily up-keep. In effort to eradicate this dependence on older married men, I steered a campaign to empower the young women for them to know how to make their own money. We partnered with the government and I encouraged the ladies to use the opportunities presented to them.
Unhealthy sexual relationships is a vice that we deal with at the university often. We hold seminars whereby young women are encouraged and taught to care for their sexual health. This is in effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
We partner with Mothers and Daughters, an organization that has been giving us mentorship programs, connecting us to the mentors, and impacting leadership skills, while at the same time seeing that our brand as young women is enhanced.
Are there any visible changes you have seen since your election?
Through the follow-up programs which are held regularly, I acknowledged that some changes have taken place in the organization. Although we have not been able to reach where we want to be, we are on the right track.
Do you personally mentor other women to go for leadership?
Yes… We have a WhatsApp Group where I mentor female students to take leadership roles. I personally follow up on their education too. We meet every Saturday for mentoring sessions and see how I can best help them, being that I am their leader.
Do you feel Women have been given equal leadership opportunities in this country?
YES… Opportunities are there. Women who want to venture into leadership positions need to grab opportunities before them, in order to make it. I am very confident that if I want to go for governorship position, I would definitely go for it, though it is not a seat that is said to be a woman’s position
Why are women not going for leadership roles then?
A lot still needs to be done so that more women can go for leadership positions and even fight for the male-dominated positions. Women think myopically. They don’t want to reach for the stars. This leads them to settling for less, and they become comfortable with the positions they have. This mentality that most people have – that only men can be leaders – is a reason as to why many women would rather go for lower positions than fight for higher positions.
In order for more women to take up top positions, they need to be uprooted from their comfort zones, and encouraged to take up higher positions. An extra push and constant empowerment will enable women to take up these positions.
What are your future plans? Will you join politics and vie for any elective position?
I want to be an influential leader especially to my community in the beautiful county of Nakuru, well known for its entrepreneurial activities. Maybe one day I will join politics, but until then, I want to focus on being an influential leader.
I have already started a project in my community to educate young people about various government opportunities they could take up to enhance their living standards. The project involves young entrepreneurs, and about ten gender equality groups that are very eager to make changes in the lives of others.
The group wants to study the different business ideas they have, and take up those that will actually transform their town for the better. This is being achieved through partnering with government organizations like Youth Fund and Uwezo Fund. In addition, these groups have also partnered with other organizations that are giving us guidance and mentorship programs, in terms of business.