The Two Key Audiences I Live For: Women and ‘Deviant’ Groups

My Journey into Civil Society and Writing
Opinion27.11.2020Kingwa Kamencu
Civil society for women

I got into the local human rights world as an undergraduate student. I responded to a newspaper advertisement that was seeking applicants to attend a training on student leadership. Organised by The Youth Agenda, a fiery group of young civil society actors, it was an extremely exciting venture. In the one-week training session, I had my first encounter with concepts of transformational change and new ways of understanding leadership. 

Along the way, I formed strong bonds with members of this group, many of whom were the rising stars of the civil society movement at the time (this was about 2003 – 2005), from different organisations. Even after the event, they continually looped me into their events and I occasionally helped as a volunteer, carrying out tasks such as rapporteuring and giving administrative support. 

Looking back, I have the chance to reflect on the question of why I did not end up actively seeking a career in civil society, upon my graduation. I had enough friends and acquaintances that would have given me an internship and even a full time job if I had made the request, but in retrospect, that was not the space my spirit was convicted to move towards. As a student, I had also been working in parliament as a personal assistant to a member of parliament. It was an exciting job and I got to be on the frontline of politics, and all the going-ons in national politics and at the political party level with wide-eyed wonder. But barely a month after my graduation, I quit this job, with the sole intention of joining the media. I had been a contributor to some of the newspapers while still a student and having published an award winning book, I felt that I still had so much more to do in terms of reaching my potential as a writer. Getting into the media was more in search of financial sustenance as well as access to an additional platform. I wanted to be a full time writer but because I also wanted to make a living, getting into the media looked like the best option. 

A few months later, I joined African Women and Child Feature Services as an intern. One of my assignments was to cover the World Social Forum which took place at the beginning of 2007. The fact that Kenya was hosting the World Social Forum was something of a big deal, a historic moment. While it was generally quite interesting, the two most memorable sessions for me, which I ended up writing about, were the session at the women’s rights tent and the LGBTQ tent. I was drawn to the gathering of brash and fiery women all over the world, calling out patriarchy and threatening to burn it to the ground. It brought to mind all the reading I had been doing as a college student on feminism, and the lonely experience I had had as a feminist while an undergraduate student. The LGBTQ tent on the other hand was just a whole experience altogether.

I had a fairly sheltered upbringing. While none of my parents were religious fundamentalists or anything close to that, they were all about decency and convention. The few relatives that may have been described as a bit wild (drinking or frequenting bars was seen as wild in the 80s and 90s), were kept away from my siblings and I, and any examples I had of deviance and deviating from the norm, I only came across on TV. And so like many other Kenyans, the Bible was my reference point when it came to forming an opinion on matters of alternate sexuality. 

Even though I was supposed to be exhibiting a professional behaviour as a journalist while covering the discussions in the LGBTI tent, my behaviour was closer to that of an audience member attending a travelling circus. Alongside the few straight Kenyans that had dared to enter the tent, my eyes were agog, my lower jaw resting on my chest the whole time. While in the beginning I attended the LGBTI sessions for curiosities sake, by the end, I was a sympathiser. I ended up interviewing one of the speakers, a lesbian woman from Uganda who had faced numerous incidences of violence because of her sexuality, and following that, I became a life-long ally and supporter of the movement to embrace alternate sexualities. 

I did these two stories at the beginning of my media career more than 13 years ago but they are still very pivotal and close to my heart. It is interesting that my journalism over the years and present day life interests still revolve around these two audiences: women and groups perceived as ‘deviant’. What’s also interesting is the fusion of my parallel interests – politics and human rights, with media. Today, at Blackstar Media which I founded in 2019, these are the key audiences that we still serve, and the topics that we still delve into. Creatives, human rights defenders, innovators, groups whose members by and large march to their own rhythm.

FNF

Kingwa Kamencu

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.​