As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, we are encouraging women of all cadres to “Choose To Challenge”.
Year after year, March 8 is celebrated all over the world. The day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women from all walks of life while highlighting the day-to-day problems they face in the professional environment.
In this interview, we talk to Judy Kosgei on how she has risen ranks to become one of the most sort after communications and advocacy expert, her family, #MyLane2 campaign, advocating for environmental justice and human rights
Who is Judy Kosgei?
I am a mother of two, a wife, a daughter and a sister to six siblings.
I am also a Communications for Development, Advocacy and Content Development Expert, with over 15 years of experience, developing, implementing and supporting impactful in-country, multi-country, regional and international communications, media and advocacy strategies and campaigns, in over 20 countries with over 30 in-country interventions across key regions in Africa as well as The MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa).
I recently became a cycling enthusiast who currently spearheads, the World Wide Fund for Nature – Kenya (WWF-Kenya) led public awareness and advocacy campaign for a Just Road System in Kenya dubbed #MyLane2 – it is anchored on a non-discrimination principle and safety for ALL, including vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists, without prejudice on Kenyan roads.
As Head of Communications at WWF-Kenya, I have been advocating for the use of law as a tool to bring systemic change in natural resource governance, equitable sharing of natural resources as well as upholding human rights.
The campaign has seen a legislative amendment bill on the Kenya Roads Act, 2007 introduced in parliament by Samburu West Member of Parliament Hon. Naisula Lesuuda. When passed into law, it will ensure Kenya’s road infrastructure prioritizes Non-Motorised Transport (NMT), which is safe, efficient, healthy and climate-friendly.
When and how did your journey begin in campaigning for equality on the roads for cyclists and pedestrians?
I grew up in Turesia – a beautiful small village located on the slopes of Elgeyo escarpment in the southern part of Kerio Valley. Because of the hilly landscape and rocky terrain, bicycles were hard to come by in Turesia at the time. For fun, we climbed trees and large boulders, usually while herding livestock.
My parents and especially my mum, who is a retired teacher, loved books and so naturally my siblings and I read lots of them growing up. In the books, I read, I got to ‘travel’ and met people from all over the world. I got to learn about their cultures, what they did for fun and who their celebrities were. My dad was always eager to help me locate countries, cities, towns, flight paths and other interesting features from his interactive Atlas.
After finishing my undergrad, I got a chance to travel the world. I got to see Kampala, London, Ouagadougou, New York, Accra, Capetown, Freetown, Bandung, Dodoma, Monrovia, Kismayu, Khartoum and many other cities. I also finally got to relocate to Nairobi for work. Having grown up in the lush green and spacious slopes of Kerio Valley, it bothered me that most concrete jungles that make up our big cities did not always have ample green spaces or provision for Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) infrastructure like pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. I made a personal commitment to take action.
Spearheading the WWF-Kenya led advocacy for a Just Road System in 2019, therefore, presented an opportunity to move from commitment to action through a platform dubbed #MyLane2 – a public awareness and advocacy campaign calling for the adoption of a comprehensive Non-Motorised Transport Legislation in Kenya. The advocacy call to action is anchored on a non-discrimination principle – safety for ALL without prejudice on Kenyan roads. This will contribute to a transition to sustainable practices to cut down on carbon emissions towards ‘less than 2° Celsius’ ambition.
I started my cycling journey, however, in March 2020. Can you believe a few months ago I couldn’t balance on a bike? I was actually taught how to by my husband and members of my cycling group Spin Kings and Spin Queens. They say only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches so I had to learn how to ride a bike and experience first-hand the challenges before taking action towards ending the blatant discrimination on our roads.
I have read the Constitution of Kenya, but I seem not to find a clause that directly talks about equality on the roads for cyclists and pedestrians. Do you mind shading light on this? How is this campaign linked to global goals?
Through the #MyLane2 platform, we call on the Kenyan people as right-holders to come together to advocate and call on policymakers to take action and prioritise NMT as a key enabler towards reducing our carbon footprint through various interventions as outlined under various national, regional and international commitments like;
Article 42 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010: The Constitution grants every person the right to a clean and healthy environment, which includes the right– (a) to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through legislative and other measures, particularly those contemplated in Article 69; and (b) to have obligations relating to the environment fulfilled under Article 70.
Kenya’s Green Economy Strategy Implementation Plan (GESIP) 2016 – 2030 recommends the integration of NMT in the design and construction of roads in all county headquarters, reduction of vehicular emissions through legal and fiscal measures and incorporating climate-proofing into the infrastructural design, construction and maintenance.
Kenya’s Paris Agreement and the National Climate Change Commitments – Through the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) and Kenya’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), in response to decisions adopted at the 19th and 20th sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including abating greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. Sectors covered by the contribution include transportation as per the guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This will include the promotion and implementation of mitigation activities, including low carbon and efficient transportation systems.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – NMT contributes to the realisation of at least 10 out of the 17 SDGs as part of a wider 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The fact that among the SDGs Goals whose deadline was 2020, is the Goal on Health and Well Being, and Target ( 3.2) “Halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents: – This Target has not been met. In Kenya, over 3000 Kenyans lose their lives in road traffic crashes every year. The majority of these people are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists In addition, nearly one-third of deaths are among passengers – many of whom are killed in unsafe forms of public transportation. More than 75% of road traffic casualties are economically productive young adults. Pedestrians and passengers are the most vulnerable; they account for 80% of the deaths. A just road system will reduce these needless deaths.
Most existing NMT systems in Kenya are death traps, pedestrians and cyclists are hardly respected on our Kenyan roads, simply because they have been left out by the same law that should protect them. Clearly labelled and safe NMT systems should be prioritised.
How has the campaign changed legislation in Kenya so far?
It warms my heart to see mainly volunteers and cycling enthusiasts come together to create awareness by supporting NMT awareness initiatives across the country.
In December 2020, Samburu West Member of Parliament, Naisula Lesuuda, introduced an amendment bill in the National Assembly which could yield the much needed holistic Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) legislation.
If the Lesuuda NMT Bill is passed into law, the road infrastructure that aids in attaining sustainable road transport systems, in Kenya, will be a reality. The amendment bill supports a safe, efficient, healthy and climate-friendly Just Road System through inclusive road transport designs and construction.
How would you motivate other women and especially those at the peak of their careers to support a cause?
I would say to them that there is no greater opportunity than this. For indeed what is better than obtaining key skills in your profession but also being able to influence change and positively impact the lives of others. I would say to any woman out there- what is in your hand? Use it to rewrite the narrative and to influence change.
No platform is too small to stir change, no voice is too low, no picture too hazy and no ink too faint to be read. When they say shut up, speak up. When they break your pen, get another one because if you don’t write that story, tell that story, who will? And if they do, it will never be the story you wanted to tell.
Anyone can be an NMT champion. One life lost on our Kenyan roads due to discriminatory laws, for lack of Just road systems, is one too many.
Away from #MyLane2, in 2015, you won a Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, has it had an impact on your life and does development communication have a role today?
Winning the award was a watershed moment in my life and career, as it not only gave me a platform to amplify voices of the marginalized but also connected me to key networks and personalities who have since then shaped my world view and made it a lot easier for me to influence change.
My passion then as it is now is to highlight the rights of indigenous and marginalized communities. Often times, if not all the time, the voices of this group of people are silenced. It is in telling their story that I was awarded this prestigious prize. And it is in receiving this prize that I have now been given the skills, networks and platforms to effectively get them to be heard.
I have since used my platform to champion other issues of concern to me such as the right to education. One of my proudest achievements came when I took the initiative to start and actively engage in a change campaign that led to the amendment of the Basic Education Act 2014 in Kenya.
This law compels the Kenyan government to provide free, affordable and quality sanitary towels to girls in public schools. The passing of the historic law would not have been possible without media advocacy and a blend of communications and public advocacy with Kenya’s lawmakers in order to effectively highlight the plight of girls from needy backgrounds and the need to destigmatize the public discussion of reproductive health issues.
I was also part of the Equality Now team that developed and led one of the biggest Strategic Impact Litigation campaigns at the ECOWAS Court of Justice after girls who were sexually violated and exploited during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone were revictimized by being denied an education. It’s shocking that the girls were banned from attending regular schools and the perpetrators left to walk away scot-free. The legal advocacy culminated in the lifting of the ban, in 2019, imposed by the Salon government preventing pregnant girls from sitting exams and attending mainstream school.
Do you still champion for girl rights as was the case when you were a journalist and regional communications officer in the Africa office for Equality Now?
Amplifying even a single voice which is muffled by marginalization, disease, political forces, social inequality, natural resources and income inequality, discrimination or poverty, is worth the risk, the ‘humiliation’ and my time. I always employ this basic criterion before I embark on any assignment – does it change a life, yes?
Go for it, do it! tell her story, his story, their story, because if it doesn’t change a life it is not worth it.
Kosgei’s acheivements so far
Kosgei’s passion for environmental justice, protection and promotion of human rights drive her communications and advocacy interventions have not gone unnoticed. She has received awards from CNN, the Thomson Foundation, the Foreign Press Association, the United Nations Population Fund and the Media Council of Kenya for her role in highlighting environmental, developmental and human rights issues.
Judy is finalising her PhD in African Women Studies at the University of Nairobi, holds an M.A. in International Conflict Management from the University of Nairobi, a Bachelor of Science in Information Sciences from Moi University and a Diploma in information studies.