Gunilla Hjelm, who previously held the chair of the executive board in the municipality of Vetlanda Sweden, got in contact with ICLD through a Vetlanda partnership in Namibia. One thing led to another and a few years later she signed up as a mentor in the ICLD-programme ‘Local Political Leaders – Capacitating Women in Politics.’
In the programme she met Malin Atieno from Kisumu who first joined politics as an environment counsellor in Kobura Ward. She eventually became a member of the county assembly.
“I really wanted to understand how women go about becoming a politician. I also wanted to meet other female political leaders and when I joined the programme I met my mentor Gunilla. It was a very good programme,” says Malin.
Sha graduated from the programme and once back in Kisumu she was the first Kenyan female majority leader elected in the county assembly.
“It was a very big moment for me, Gunilla was there and we were both very proud,” says Malin.
Do you think the ICLD-programme helped you become the leader that won the election?
“The programme played a big role, I learned to debate, I became more confident and I discovered how to manage time as a speaker. I had difficulties including other people in my work, but I’ve since learned how to do that in the programme.”
How important was the mentorship in developing your skills as a leader?
“We shared many ideas, we had a lot in common and faced the same challenges in our communities. Gunilla helped me to keep time and to have a calendar which is important if you want to become a well-organised leader,” says Malin.
They found that they shared many small things in common all of which turned in to a big mutual picture. They enjoyed each other’s company and became friends on a level that goes beyond female leadership and political ambitions.
They stayed in touch after the programme ended in 2014 and have started different projects where their abilities as political leaders, and leaders in general, were useful.
“I have grown so much through this partnership. I have learned to take a step back and listen to different perspectives, I consider myself an open-minded person, but I´ve become even more open-minded thanks to this programme and the things I have done after that,” says Gunilla.
She is no longer working as a politician, but is still very much a part of empowering women. Her main focus right now is Rag2Rug, an enterprise aimed at women with immigrant backgrounds who find it difficult to enter the labour market in her hometown of Vetlanda.
Malin, how has the programme cleared the way for you to expand your network?
“Before the ICLD-programme I was a leader, but only in Kisumu. In the programme I met women from South Africa, Uganda and many other countries, whom I still stay in contact with,” says Malin.
She is no longer working as a politician but, thanks to the programme, she has a network of woman politicians from different parties in Kenya.
What was key for the success of your partnership – and that it is still ongoing?
“Mutual respect and friendship and that we know that this is long-term. We are not in a hurry to find new projects. Things change around us – we are no longer politicians but we are still community leaders,” says Gunilla.
Can what you have learned in the programme apply to other regions and communities?
“I think that we should take a look at our problems from a different perspective more often. And even if we live far apart we are all people with pretty much the same problems, goals and needs,” says Gunilla. “We have come a long way, but still have a long way to go in Sweden.”
“Women leaders are still oppressed in my country so we need to work hard,” says Malin. “In Kenya there are very few women politicians, so when Gunilla visits I always invite women politicians so they can see that we are not alone.”
Malin Atieno wishes there could be an ICLD-regional mentorship programme.
“If you want to change things you have to start from the roots,” says Malin. “We need well-informed voters who are aware of the issues, what they mean for them, and that the tax-payer’s money gets spent on the right things.”
What abilities did you need to develop when you applied for the programme, Malin?
“I wanted to understand politics and how I could become a woman political leader. I needed to learn the craft, find my tools in political leadership. I am no longer a noisy politician. I talk about issues that are affecting our people, and I’m not oppressing anyone to make myself better.”
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
“I hope I have empowered many women in my community so that when it’s election time people will cast a vote based on ideas, not on how rich the politician is.”
“My goal is that both Malin and I are still women leaders who can help other women to become leaders. And that we still have many ongoing projects,” says Gunilla.