Programme Manager, Atlantic Fellow for Social and Economic Equity programme
Looking out the window onto the dust-choked construction site that is the London School of Economics these days, I wait for my conference call to start. A short beep later, I am transported to a bright new place by the birdsong and lively chatter that pours out of Roseline Orwa’s end of the line in an internet café in southwest Kenya. Roseline is an acclaimed widows’ rights activist, storyteller and organiser. I first met her last June when she joined the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity, a social-change leadership programme based at LSE’s International Inequalities Institute.
As the programme’s manager for global engagement and impact, I speak to Roseline and other Fellows regularly about their fellowship projects. Roseline’s initiative aims to bring women together to combat the economic inequalities, cultural exclusion and physical and sexual abuse that widows in her community face: not only through new laws and policies, but via social and cultural change, too.
During the call, Roseline shares the news that she was recently invited to formally take part in Siaya County Assembly, her region’s law-making body. Amazing, right? What she did next is even cooler. She pushed to ensure that this precedent-setting access to political power would be given not just to her on a one-off basis, but would henceforth involve the community of widow activists as a whole. At the heart of Roseline’s activism and leadership is a focus on stepping back: inviting other women to take a stance, to initiate and drive conversations on change, and to coach and persuade young men and elders in the community to support new ways of thinking and acting.
I’ve seen this approach across the work of so many of our Atlantic Fellows, too: a thoughtful, generous, everyday intentionality in challenging power and patriarchy through solidarity in sisterhood. Melanie R. Brown, one of our US-based Atlantic Fellows, is a policy and philanthropy practitioner with years of experience in building new paths to dignity and equity in education for girls and women, African Americans, students with disabilities and those from low-income backgrounds. In her Atlantic Fellowship project on Black women in US philanthropy, she referred to this kind of women’s leadership and solidarity as “making a way out of no way… without asking for permission”.
Ebru Ilhan is Programme Manager (Global Engagement and Impact) for the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme. She tweets at @ebruilhn
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme, the International Inequalities Institute, or the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Photo: Gabriel at Unsplash