Achieng Akumu is living the life she always dreamed of - to be a lawyer. Since she was a little girl, all she wanted was fairness and justice for women and today she plays an active role in making that happen.
The Regional Director of Planned Parenthood Global (PP Global) believes that addressing reproductive health should be a concern for everyone, not just women. That a world where the woman - the soul of the family is healthy means a stable community and ultimately society.
Achieng says that women’s sexual and reproductive health is related to multiple human rights, including the right to life.
She says women have the right to control their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health.
“You are the gatekeeper to your sex life. You determine how that happens if it does, and with whom,” she says.
The human rights advocacy champion says that choices women make on sex are often uninformed because they have little or no information.
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“There is a crisis. However, we should continue to educate girls in internally displaced people’s camps, marginalised areas, and conflict areas on how to protect themselves with information,” she says.
On reproductive health for women living with disability, Achieng says they build partnerships that empower women with disability to live full and healthy lives.
“This is a commitment we have - to empower and invest in their information so that they can be equipped with knowledge,” she says.
A legislative attorney and international development practitioner for over the last three decades, Achieng began her professional career as a Legislative Assistant to a New York Assemblyman.
Upon completion of law school, she worked as Legislative Director to US Congressmen and later on moved to work for the executive side of government, serving with the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, and the State Department.
She has fond memories of her journey into understanding law, a dream that she always had as a child growing up in Mombasa County, where she was born.
“I was always interested in the law and how it can help people. My primary focus was the apartheid edition. My father was keen on the liberation of our brothers and sisters in South Africa,” says Achieng.
Indeed, her father’s life and her interest in apartheid - a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race - in South Africa back then would greatly impact her career journey.
“Growing up, the illegality of the apartheid structure, the system, and dehumanisation of the people bothered my mind. I wanted to be a judge and I thought at the end of the day I needed knowledge if I was going to mitigate these matters,” she says.
Her father was a politician and therefore, she was exposed to policy issues at a tender age. But it was the growing passion for health rights among women and children that finally became her focus, more so equipping and arming the groups with correct information so that they can stay healthy and pursue their livelihoods with ease.
Unlike most people who are influenced by their parent’s career choices, Achieng knew from the onset what she wanted to be without following her parent’s path, which she notes played a critical role in making her dream come through.
“My father was a politician and my mother was a teacher. I had aunts and uncles who had taken different career paths from what I aspired to. I understood that the law is a tool to effect change. The apartheid system is what kept me up at night, and I researched and wrote my thesis on that”.
“I went to the US to pursue an education in Law. Even though my father preferred the UK, the US was my preferred place; it has always been home to my heart,” says Achieng.
“I always dreamt of becoming an international lawyer so that I could work at The Hague. Unfortunately, there were no opportunities. I got my career start in the US Congress, working on African issues.”
In her line of passion, Achieng has worked in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, mainly Liberia, Ghana, Kosovo, and DRC.
The main objectives of SADC are to achieve economic development, peace and security, and growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through Regional Integration.
Achieng, whose campaign remains to promote justice, says she draws inspiration from people whose dreams hold the future together.
She says that it is advantageous that Kenya’s youth form the better part of the energised population in the country.
“Young people should listen and read policies that affect them. We cannot operate in a vacuum because all these issues are political. There is a need to engage constructively, and amplify our voices through structures in a bid to establish them,” says Achieng.