Volunteering for change: global rights for women

Growing up in a household led by a single mother within Tanzania’s traditionally patriarchal society led Eluka Chelu Kibona (MA International Development, 2008) to question the idea of male authority from an early age. Years later, the campaigner and activist is still asking challenging questions and using her platform as a Ford Global Fellow to fight for change

Eluka can barely remember a time when she wasn't aware of a male-dominated society, with access to resources, education and credit controlled by men. She challenges this daily through her role with the Department for International Development (DFID), and her voluntary work coordinating Voices of Young Women, a feminist forum that aims to give agency to young women, challenging traditional gender norms and economic disparity. It was the drive and passion to right these injustices that led her to study at Birmingham.

Eluka Chelu Kibona

Eluka recalls her time in Birmingham with great fondness: 'The Development Department had a great international reputation and I'd heard about their work with governments and countries around the world. I loved the energy there, and it really felt like home with the mix of different cultures and people. 

'I tried to experience everything Birmingham had to offer, I loved the curry and the people and made lifelong friendships. I would recommend it to everyone. One day I hope my children will go to the University of Birmingham.'

Describing her work to readdress the gender imbalance as a constant 'itch', she is keen to stress that it's not just something which is seen in Africa, citing the recent #MeToo movement as an example of women questioning the power relationship, although within a very different economic context.

I started volunteering for change while I was in Birmingham – LGBTQ+ issues and women’s rights, against sweatshops and climate change. When I got back home, I didn't have a job so I continued to volunteer. It helped me build networks and meet people working on the same issues as me. It took a while, but now I have a job in a field I'm passionate about, and I continue to volunteer in my spare time.

As a Ford Global Fellow, Eluka is part of the inaugural cohort of 24 social justice leaders who have been selected to participate in the Ford Foundation's new Global Fellowship programme, which will help accelerate the impact of their work. 

She adds: 'Being one voice can sometimes feel draining. This is a great opportunity to hear from others what makes their movements work, and what makes change happen.' So it's easy to understand the appeal of connecting with such a powerful network from around the world, swapping ideas, collaborating and learning from each other.

Within her own home, Eluka is determined that her son is brought up to see gender roles very differently: making sure he knows how to cook and clean and doesn't think certain jobs are 'for women'. As she concludes: 'I'm not afraid to speak my mind and to challenge. For me, silence is complicity.'

If you'd like to volunteer to create change like Ekula, visit www.birmingham.ac.uk/birmingham-in-action/volunteering