Catherine Kita, 28, has become the first Malawian woman to participate in the prestigious Community Engagement Exchange (CEE) leadership fellowship in the United states (US).
She emerged successful, beating many others from all over the world.
Catherine was selected from a pool of more than 4 500 applicants alongside 110 other fellows from 89 countries.
As an advocate for menstrual equity in girls and women in schools and societies in the country, she describes the accomplishment as a big win for her and the communities she serves.
Catherine founded the Women for Social Change (W4SC) in 2016 to advance the well-being of girls and young women in Malawi.
The Chitipa-born young woman says starting the organisation was an inspiration from her own personal story as she grew up in a semi-urban area and from a poor background with very few role models she could listen to.
Also, she didn’t always have enough sanitary provision from her parents and would at times miss school for some of her period days because she could not manage her menses.
The Women for Social Change works to increase girls’ access to education, create safe spaces in schools, provide access to health services, increase youth engagement as well as to cultivate female leadership.
With one of their biggest programmes—keeping girls in school— W4SC provides sanitary products for girls in schools while also delivering sexual reproductive health rights education.
“We want to ensure that no girl misses school or drops out due to menstruation; hence, providing them with the products they need to live to the fullest while in school,” she says.
Through the initiative, the organisation also mentors women leaders and provides them with a platform to network and learn through the annual Inspirational Coffee Chat gatherings.
Through the 2022 CEE programme, Catherine says in the next couple of months, she will focus on building her knowledge and expertise around women and gender issues while working with the Period Movement in the US.
She will also have the privilege of participating in the leadership curriculum at George Mason University.
Currently in the US, the human resources management graduate is working with PERIOD.ORG, a menstrual movement that is working to end period poverty.
In 2021, PERIOD distributed menstrual products to cover over three million menstrual cycles of those in dire need.
“Being placed with the PERIOD. ORG is the best opportunity that happened to me on the programme as I have been learning different approaches being used in the US to combat period poverty. As an organisation, we are also learning how PERIOD uses their chapters both nationally and internationally to reach out to many menstruators,” the first born of two girls in her family explains.
A week ago, she joined the Period Organisation in Portland Oregon through the Period Action Day (PAD), to grow the menstrual movement and take action to end the period poverty that faces many women across the globe.
Through the PAD, they made calls for others to join the movement in eradicating period poverty,
The CEE programme that she is under, is a US-government fully funded leadership programme implemented by Irex for global young leaders to advance their leadership skills to address issues in their communities.
In the US, CEE places young leaders in organisations where they work and learn while participating in a leadership academy as well.
In spite of everything, running W4SC has had its challenges, the biggest of which is inadequate resources to reach more schools and impact more young people as Catherine explains:
“We are currently working in schools only in the Southern Region and we would like to go national and beyond.”
Born on December 29, the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation (Norec) 2018 fellow comes from Misuku in Chitipa.
She is a Lunzu Secondary School alumnus who is proud to have been
raised by a strong woman— her mother.
“In a family of girls only, my mother believed in me and my sister Tupokiwe so much. She always told us that as a girl, I could do anything that a boy could. This helped me to realise my full potential and to claim my space wherever I go,” she says.
And true to her motto, despite studying human resources management at Pact College, she followed her community passion to work around women and gender issues.
After completing her studies, Cathy admits that it was hard for her to find platforms where she could listen to successful women and be inspired.
So, she wanted to draw the line by providing all these opportunities to young girls and women through the W4SC initiative.
“I want to create a community that is conducive for everyone and is more engaged,” she says.
As far as her advice to young people goes, she says, “dare to be different! Take your time and discover your purpose then rise and find your space. Be that leader; that man or woman who in the face of diversity will continue to embrace life and become who you want to be.”