Erin Smith is returning to finish her second year in the International Development program. She spent her summer internship with UN Women, a United Nations entity working for the empowerment of women, in Nairobi, Kenya.

The IDEV Summer Internship Series highlights the experiences of IDEV students participating in internships this past summer. Each year, IDEV students intern with various development organizations around the world. These internships are generously funded by SAIS donors, and offer valuable opportunities for students to gain real-world experience between their first and second years at SAIS. Erin's internship with UN Women was sponsored by Hope Simon Miller.

Working with the UN Women East and Southern Africa regional office in Nairobi this summer, I joined a cadre of self-proclaimed feminists and HeforShe advocates committed to the advancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

As part of the Peace, Security, and Humanitarian Action team, I contributed research and analysis on country-level implementation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. Now 17 years since the passing of the resolution, many countries within the region lack National Action Plans for implementation and have made little veritable progress on integrating women into the political sphere or peace processes. The effect that decades of conflict has had on women in the region is clear. Women disproportionately suffer from widening gender gaps, sexual violence, and displacement. Yet women are least likely to be included in peace negotiations and observation; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR); and security sector reform (SSR) programs. Meanwhile, it is these same women who often drive community-level conflict resolution.

With a small budget, but hefty mandate, UN Women not only works to mobilize governments and societies, but also other UN organizations to ensure gender mainstreaming and that implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals translates into results for women and girls. This summer, outside the gates of the UN compound in Nairobi, radio ads and graphic billboards of past post-election violence abound--a small part of widespread peaceful elections advocacy. As soon as I leave the UN, my hours of research and writing on women’s involvement in politics and peace negotiations become conversations with Uber drivers on the current state of affairs in Kenya.

Women voters and candidates alike continued to face constraints to political participation during the 2017 campaigns in Kenya--a problem which UNSCR 1325 aims to address. Rallies often occurred during the evening (a time of family responsibilities for women), husbands often continued to pressure their wives to vote for particular candidates, and fears of voter intimidation and sexual violence were very real remnants of the 2007 post-election violence.  

After people headed to the polls on August 8th, the elections resulted in new victories for women in Kenyan politics. Three female governors were elected, marking the first time that women have achieved such a victory. In the country’s largely patriarchal and pastoral northeast, another woman was elected Member of Parliament. These notable achievements, however, by no means mark all of the indelible progress that women have made in the socio-political sphere here.

At the end of three months in the regional office, 13 comprehensive reports detailing four pillars of UNSCR 1325--prevention, participation, protection, and relief and recovery--have been completed. It is anticipated that these will guide the monitoring of government progress in mainstreaming gender in peace and security efforts and provide an advocacy platform for the development of UNSCR 1325 National Action Plans.  

It seems that Kenya, one of the few countries in the region with a National Action Plan, is slowly yet steadily making strides towards the gender equality that people have worked so long to achieve.

PHOTO CREDIT: "Women in a training session" by Maria Salamanca, from Flickr Creative Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Below, scenes from the author's travels in Kenya.