“If 50% of any population is oppressed in any way, then that country is not developing. If the women are not ok, Kenya will not be ok. Women need to lead the development. Women need to be at the forefront of policies. Let us take the lead.”
– Wendo Aszed
Founder and Executive Director, Dandelion Africa
Wendo Aszed grew up in a very remote, marginalized part of western Kenya. While her background is in business administration and finance, a little over a decade ago she made a radical shift, turning her focus to the world of nonprofit work after a dear friend died of HIV. From the loss of her friend grew a determination to do something to stop the spread of the deadly virus that had taken so many lives in her community. And what soon brought healing to Wendo, would also bring health and healing to many.
Wendo began with conversations. She spoke to all the women she knew and many she didn’t – friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers alike. She traveled throughout her own community as well as surrounding villages speaking with women about their experiences with HIV and their health more broadly, looking for an entrypoint to help these women and make a meaningful difference. Her mantra: “We need to lift other women up as we climb.”
A common theme connected these many conversations: the people around her affected most profoundly by HIV were predominantly women, and they were suffering in large part due to a lack of information and resources. Many women shared that they were originally infected because they did not know that their husbands were sick. Sexual and reproductive health education was nearly nonexistent, and contraceptives such as condoms were difficult to access, making it astronomically more difficult to reduce transmission.
It became apparent that these were not the only common challenges rural Kenyan women shared. “Most women have no economic agency, and they cannot speak up and use their voice,” Wendo explains. They were unable to take control of their health and lives, not only because they lacked information and resources, but also because of high rates of gender-based violence and a lack of education and income, a truly detrimental set of circumstances. Without an education, many women lacked the skills or networks to gain formal employment, and without an income, they were financially dependent on their partners, including many who were abusers.
Addressing each of these interconnected problems to improve the overall health and livelihoods of rural Kenyan women was the path forward for Wendo, and so, Dandelion Africa was born. Wendo shares that the name of her community-based organization symbolizes the strength of rural Kenyan women – like dandelions, they persevere even under the most impossible circumstances.
Dandelion Africa operates a health center, provides education to women and youth on their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and provides loans and financial literacy training to help women start their own businesses and gain economic independence. They also work with men, boys, and community leaders to combat high rates of gender-based violence. “We need to change the system and train the system,” Wendo explains.
Wendo says she is incredibly encouraged by the new wave of young female activists that are emerging with Dandelion Africa’s support, and their creative use of art, social media, and mobile apps to fight gender-based violence. Moving forward, she hopes that women will continue to lead the fight for gender equality. “If 50% of any population is oppressed in any way, then that country is not developing. If the women are not ok, Kenya will not be ok. Women need to lead the development. Women need to be in the forefront of policies. Let us take the lead.”