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Kenyan Women's University Prepares Students to Compete


A student at Kiriri Women's University in Kenya

A student at Kiriri Women's University in Kenya

Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is home to Kiriri Women's University of Science and Technology (KWUST), the only university in East Africa that caters specifically to women. Officials and students say having an all-famale environment better prepares the school's graduates to be successful leaders in the working world by developing their self-esteem and self-expression.

It's a unique sight in East Africa, a university comprised entirely of women students.

In a country where only about 12 percent of students pursuing math and science majors in 2007 were women, many see Kiriri Women's University of Science and Technology as a way of getting more women into a world traditionally run by men.

Fast Facts: Kiriri Women's University

  • Founded more than a decade ago
  • Offers degrees in mathematics, computer science, and business administration
  • First graduation in 2006
  • Currently has 108 students

Njeri Gikonyo is the university's deputy vice chancellor.

"We even give them special seminars on how women can manage in the workplace, how women can excel in the workplace, and all the barriers they have to go through to overcome that [discrimination]. So, when they graduate, they end up being very special and in that way, they make a name for themselves in the market," she said.

Educators say in mixed university settings, women students commonly feel intimidated by their male counterparts and tend to be quiet in class.

But in an all-female setting, women are forced to develop leadership roles,

Business and marketing lecturer Judith Muriuki said, "There has to be people who come out to give their views, express themselves. In other situations where the two groups of people are mixed together, the ladies will tend to shy off and not really come out. They will leave all the answering, all the participation to the men."

Student Nancy Nekesa Wamacho says she is inspired by her fellow students.

"If we go to schools where there are men, mostly in sciences and other things, men tend to perform much better than us. That one makes us think we cannot perform. But when you are here, and you see a girl performing, then we are in a position to say, 'she is doing it, it means I can also do that'," she said.

The intimidation many women students feel stretches back to childhood. In traditional Kenyan communities, young girls are taught to perform household chores and become wives and mothers at an early age.

Given a choice, financially-strapped families typically send their boys, rather than girls, to school.

But educators say girls' and women's access to education is improving in Kenya, with the government's 2030 economic plan and the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Last year, in fact, girls made up 45 percent of Kenya's secondary school enrollment.

Still, says deputy vice chancellor Gikonyo, there is yet a long way to go, especially in the working world.

"A lot of the organizations are male-dominated in the management level. There really does seem to be a glass ceiling for women at some point," she said.

A ceiling Kiriri Women's University of Science and Technology aims to shatter.

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