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Just before Gulf African Bank hosted their women empowerment event at Whitesands in Mombasa, I came across a comment in one of the posts and someone was saying something like, ‘Why would Gulf take such an event to Mombasa instead of Nairobi where people will surely attend?’ My jaw almost dropped. Excuse me? Really now? Are you even for real??! LOL Don’t Mombasa women deserve a chance to learn, network and get empowered too?!!

For so long we’ve been hearing of how Mombasa people are always waiting for Manna from the sky, or of how the women have nothing better they can do than get married early, adorn themselves all the time and attend weddings in a fashion-competitive way. For so long we’ve been undermined, underestimated and under-rated…but not anymore. We are not going to accept it anymore! Now we say, Enough is Enough!!

Okay maybe it is true. Maybe our grandmas sat at home and never ventured enough into tapping into their talents and areas of expertise. Maybe they weren’t as educated as we are, maybe they had different priorities than we do, maybe they failed in some places, maybe they lacked focus at some point…But still, this is not exactly true. Since way back, Mombasa women have been bringing on the table way more than ‘the man of the house’ in many houses. Go to these areas heavily populated with original Swahili women and the Mombasa folks, look at them, ask about them. You will see mothers waking up at the crack of dawn, cooking mahamri or uji or whatever it is, to sell and earn money. You will witness single mothers educating their children at the cost of not just their sweat but happiness too. You will find women whose husbands left a long time ago with no return. You will find women sacrificing all they have to provide for their children because their father hasn’t yet brought money from Suudiya, or is a drug addict or is unemployed. You will see them going door to door to sell you whatever business they could get hold of at that moment. You will know of women who belong to rich families yet decided to follow their path and make their own money. For someone else, it is easy to undermine her effort but she is doing something isn’t she? She is cooking, she is sewing, she is mending…just because she isn’t a degree holder swinging around her chair in an office, does that make her lazy? Despicable? Unwanted? A by-the-way woman?? Just because she doesn’t hold a fancy name to her business, just because she is doing it with her own hands instead of importing from Dubai and Malaysia…just because that is the only knowledge they have of, does that make her effort, any less??

So on Wednesday and Thursday, I was at the Gulf Bank women empowerment workshop and I was amazed, or rather, the event was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. I was there doing what I do best; observing people, and I realized how much this perception of Mombasa women and Mombasa folks generally is really under-rating our efforts, talents and intelligence.

There I was with over a hundred women from Mombasa; talking of empowerment, of business, of goals, of rise and fall. Here were women, each one having a story to tell. And yes, they are from Mombasa. Successful business ladies who people never bother to acknowledge their efforts, their passion and determination. Here were women with registered and unregistered businesses. Here were women making a difference.

I look at Banu Khan from UN women; with all her positive energy, her vigor, her charm, her confidence my God, she could move mountains in you. Then I look at Tahia Tajdin as she talks about audits and how to be tax compliant. And she goes a step ahead to explain critical elements we always assume and ignore. And she was there, so good at the math I was marveled. We ended up calling her ‘Madam Tax’ 😀 I listen to Zeinab Sheikh of Zeiruq Agency giving her journey to success; her very inspiring story from zero to millions almost got me to tears. I listen to how much she repeats the words, ‘Prayers…I just had prayers’…before ending it with; ‘God has a purpose for your pain, a reason for your struggle and a gift for your faithfulness’ and it hit me so hard! This woman is a believer (God bless her soul) and in her words was so much to contemplate about. And hey! These women are from Mombasa!! Why doesn’t anyone acknowledge that? Why doesn’t anyone acknowledge ‘mama Makuti’ who started a business of selling mangoes with only 300/= until now she runs her own construction business which awards her tenders worth millions? Or of these aggressive upcoming young ladies doing a lot for themselves and for the community too? Why aren’t we remembered for producing inspiring ladies like Ms Nawal Mohammed, first female board member of Gulf, or of the two female branch managers of Gulf out of 5 branches in Mombasa? Why doesn’t anyone give us a pat on the back for women like Laila of Soul Sisters Network, or of Fatma Mazrui of Nitume Online or Jamila El-Jabry of Life in Mombasa, of Nafisa Khanbhai of Dear Diary Initiative, of the ladies running ‘Inshape fitness’, of all these ladies participating in community events at Mombasa Toa Donge Lako and many other groups, of Binti Naji; the lady with an ocean of wisdom and intellect I never get enough of her…of Waridi and her magnificent aura of confidence running her business ‘Waridi fashions’? I mean, if I continue writing these names, will I ever end it today? In a crowd of over 100 women, almost ALL were running businesses of their own. Of all kinds and shapes. Women of different tribes and religions. And there are MANY MANY more out there. Trying. Building their dreams one at a time silently. Of course not; not a day, not two days will be enough.

I work with ladies who are constantly researching about business markets, they have dreams and goals. I have lived with such women. I have interacted with them. I have seen them. I am one of them.

These ladies need a genuine round of applause; a heavy one with confetti to cream it up; for being go-getters, for striving too hard, for so much sacrifice, for so much dedication…and for persevering a bad attitude on Mombasa women; yet they have proved everyone wrong.

I remember when I first attended the Gulf event, I wasn’t even speaking to the person next to me until she started teasing me for my ‘introvertism’. By the time we had the breaks where people were networking, my colleague Rahma was the one busy telling people about my blog and praising it too much, telling everyone you can advertise on my blog and about my writing services, I almost thought it was hers instead of mine. 😀 The next moment I was in a round table with some four ladies when this topic on undermining Mombasa ladies came up, I was barely participating until I jumped in, ‘You guys just gave me an idea to write about!’ Then it all started, ‘Ohh you are a blogger?!’ etc etc and the next moment another lady joined us,one of the four by the name of Faiza was introducing me. She had her tone upright and straight, ‘Do you know she was nominated for BAKE awards? Aha!’ and she said it too well I almost asked for some attitude and confidence tips from her 😀 Trust me, by the time the event was ending, these ladies had given me enough inspiration to talk about myself and the little much I do. I was exchanging numbers, noting down names, sending links of my blog…and it still got me thinking, perhaps this is what we have always lacked; the push. The previous generations of Mombasa women lacked education (majority of them), they lacked opportunities, but importantly, they lacked empowerment…yet they still did great in whatever small businesses they ventured in. Let’s give credit where it is due. They may have had issues with fear of taking risks and of exploring opportunities, but we have to agree that they did try. We are trying right now and we are changing!…For the better.

So from today henceforth, Mombasa women where are you? Let us put up an oath that we are never allowing anyone from anywhere to criticize, undermine or sabotage our image. The next time someone talks of how lazy and dependent we are, talk of the great Mombasa women you know. I am sure your own mother is one of them. Let us not allow ourselves be treated like women of no focus because we are not that. We are women of substance, women ready to make changes, ready to defend our reputation…women of VIGOR!!

I don’t know if Gulf African Bank personnel and UN women too can ever realize how much they have impacted women’s lives, not just by the 2-day workshop, but by empowering women always. Very lovely ladies like Najma Jabri, Muumina Bonaya, Wanjiru Gathira, Beatrice, the beautiful ladies of Gulf, together with the MD, Mr Abdulkhalik, the other staff & speakers mentioned above and the man of the event, Peter Pasaka… May God bless their souls for such a wonderful workshop!!

I may not be able to mention all the wonderful women who are beating all odds to get to their goals but i’ll just make this shout out for everyone: To all the Mombasa women creating a difference and working very hard, I salute you!

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