Back to school
By Harold Ayodo
Elsie Otachi gets impatient on a traffic jam on Uhuru Highway towards the University of Nairobi shortly after 5pm. She is rushing to meet her Masters project supervisor, Dr Karambu Ringera, to guide her on her research work.
The executive director of Isha Initiative (Isha is woman in Hebrew) manages to catch up with the scholar.
"It has been a hustle since I enrolled for a Master of Arts in Communication Studies at the main campus two years ago," Otachi says.
The graduate of Africa Nazarene University is among the increasing number of enterprising women scrambling for space in universities. For instance, Otachi is among 10 women out of 13 students pursuing MA in Communication Studies in her class.
"Women triple men in my class," she says. "We enrolled in 2008 and are scheduled to graduate in December after two years of toiling."
As the number of women seeking further studies grows in public and private universities, they give reasons for their appetite for academics.
Otachi says she went back to class to feather her academic cap so she can start her own organisation.
"I have been in class for one and a half years and here I am. Recently I founded an organisation to empower the girl-child and it is off to a good start," Otachi says.
For Nelly Mutiso, a public relations practitioner, her five-year stint in the job market made her seek further education before marriage.
"The business of young college graduates sleeping with bosses to move up the corporate ladder was just not my cup of tea," Mutiso says.
According to her, what she terms ‘horizontal interviews’ is a reality that makes you a slave in the workplace.
"My friend was a victim and she lost her job after she tied the knot with the boss as company policy dictates that spouses cannot work in the same firm," says Mutiso.
To make a point, Mutiso then enrolled at the University States International University (USIU) to seek a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
"I believe I can climb the corporate ladder through my work and academic credentials," she says. "Some women have done the same."
Mutiso pays her own fees and says going back to class has impacted negatively on her social life.
"I rarely go out with my friends as I have regular class assignments, group discussions and projects to finish after work," she says.
Instead of buying a sleek car, Mutiso opted to invest her savings in education, believing she has made the right choice.
"I believe I will be economically empowered and make my own decisions or help my spouse in curving the future of our family," she says.
The script is near similar to that of Maureen Wanjiru who is pursuing an MBA at Daystar University.
"Society has changed and men no longer want to marry women who cannot help them place food on the table," she says. "We all have to struggle."
But even as the women scramble for space in lecture halls for varied reasons, some men seem uncomfortable with their endeavours.
Otachi says some become uneasy whenever a woman reveals she is pursuing a PhD. Some women say declaring their academic dreams to a prospective boyfriend is a short cut to kissing him goodbye.
"It has happened to me twice. One time, we were having a good discussion when I brought up the issue of classes, and it dampened the day," Wanjiru says.
Otachi says for many women, going back to schools is not always a bed of roses but she credits women for their natural ability to multi-task.
"Hilary Clinton said when women are free to vote and run for public office, Governments are more effective and responsive," Otachi says. "When women are free to earn a living and start businesses, they become drivers of economic growth. When women are afforded the opportunity of education and access to health care, their families prosper," Otachi says.
According to some married women pursuing Masters degrees, having a husband who understands their dreams is fulfilling. Lucy Kariuki is one such lucky woman. Despite being a mother of two, she took study leave at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute to go back to school.
"My husband was behind my dream as he understood my desire to upgrade for a better life," she says.
The students who triple as mothers, wives and employees often have to call their house-helps to issue instructions before lectures start at 5.30pm.
"You have to leave the lecture hall midway to call home and ensure all is well as classes end at 8.30pm," Kariuki says.
For such women, switching off their mobile phones is a no-no in case an emergency calls of SMS comes through. Occasionally, the women have to leave class to call home when their instincts warn them something is amiss.
"It’s tough being a mother in an evening class. You cannot ignore a flash call from the house-help as you may regret it," Kariuki says.
Her day starts at 4am to enable her spend at least an hour with her baby and put her back to sleep before going through her books.
"It’s challenging but we have to sacrifice to change our status as African women," Kariuki says.
During weekends, the women find they are not off the hook yet as this is when group discussions and make-up classes, which one cannot afford to miss are held.
Seasoned family lawyer Judy Thongori says women must use education to rise through the corporate ladder.
"Women and men are the same intellectually. Their only difference is biological," Thongori says.
She encourages working women not to fall into the trap of sleeping with male bosses to seek favours or promotions.
"Young women should believe in themselves," she counsels. "It takes academic papers, experience and hard work to be what you want," Thongori says.
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