Regina Opondo wears so many hats in the Kenyan civil society sector. She is the Executive Secretary of CRECO, a consortium of 23 civil society organisations in Kenya, Co-Convener for the ‘Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu movement, a platform for political dialogue around Kenyan elections, a Deputy Convener for the Civil Society reference group in Kenya, among others.
Regina believes that women work best together and dismisses the saying the women are their own worst enemies. She also says women tend to do very well in civil society as compared to other sectors. If you’ve ever considered starting a career in civil society, this one has lots of gems for you.
Why civil society and not a different sector?
I always knew that I wanted to help people especially on human rights issues, and for me the civil society was the only way.
The civil society sector is also very exciting. There is always something new every day, and there is a feeling of family as we all work together towards specific good.
Do you think are the barriers to women’s progress in the sector?
I would say there is minimal barrier as women with technical expertise in the sector tend do very well as compared to other sectors like the government and the cooperates.
To some extent though, there is the social barrier. I think it is sometimes quite a challenge balancing between work, family and the civil society work. The sector is quite demanding as it requires more hours at work, traveling now and then, active activism and advocacy.
Most women with families in the sector have had to tone down after on active participation in their work and are not as active as they were before. They are forced to take less work and take care of other social responsibilities.
Does being a woman-led organization give leverage in winning donor funds?
I would say yes and no.
Yes, because it makes it easier when one is dealing with women-led donor organisations. I have always believed that fundraising is about building relationships and how you relate. You see for women, there are so many things to share. We talk about challenges and how to handle them and freely give advice when needed. Hence, it is easier to pitch agendas and ideas to women for funding. With men on the other hand, it is hard to build relations as relating with some can be quite a challenge.
No, because the playing field is the same and the quality of work is what matters.
What are your views on the relationship between civil society organisations and the government?
There is a general feeling of mistrust and open hostility that manifests itself differently in many African countries, and in Kenya to be specific.
The current government has not allowed the civil society organisations (CSOs) to operate freely and there is the new bill in parliament to amend the Public Benefit Organisations Act.
The PBO Act aims at protecting freedom of association and allows civil society organisations doing public benefit work to operate under one single Act. The Kenyan government though, has refused to put a commencement date on it.
Has your ethnicity ever affected your advocacy work?
To some extent it has, as others always believe that since one comes from a specific ethnic community, they are automatically inclined to a specific political party.
Hence, they do not tend to be keen on important issues raised but judge your actions, as genuine as they are.
What do you do in your free time
I love art and craft, watching movies, reading fiction and swimming.
I have to try keep fit you know 😉
Any advice to upcoming women leaders?
I would say, look for good mentors to serve different purposes in life whether career, spiritual, family and even technical.
After you succeed, remember to give back that which has been given to you.
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