Patience Poni Ayikoru, famously known as Pesh Poni is a young Christian law student, feminist peer educator, and servant leader nurturing a new generation of purpose driven leaders. This writer had a word with her.
1. Who is Patience Poni Ayikoru?
Patience Poni Ayikoru is a young leader enthusiastic about women’s inclusion in governance and gender equality. She is a final year student of Law at Uganda Christian University with a keen interest in Women’s Rights. She has been a champion in several leadership spaces and has attended several platforms for great leadership and debate. She is currently the Guild Speaker and a Member of Parliament of the Law Faculty at the University.
She is an alumnus of the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI 2021) by Akina Mama Wa Afrika and UN Women; and a graduate from the Young Leader’s Forum 2019 intake organized by Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung. Patience participated at the 31st Transformational Leadership Camp 2021 by Forum for Women in Democracy and the African Feminist Macroeconomic Academy (AFMA 2020) by African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).
She is an Award winner for All Africa Students’ Union SHE GAME AWARDS, Ghana in 2020 in the category of Phenomenal Woman leaders in universities. She is also the founder and Team Leader of a Community Based Organization in Koboko District, West Nile region of Uganda called Femme Talk West Nile intending to shape girl child solidarity and a safe space for rural women to share experiences on marginalization and harassment.
She has been in many more leadership spaces and has since been able to share her experiences and influence among her peers on leadership.
2. What is your “why” and who inspires you the most?
I am more inclined towards leadership; women inclusion in various tables of decision making which we most times term as gender equality. I speak for the youth; I speak for humanity and for as long as my gender is faced with discrimination, violence, and the likes I speak highly for women’s safety.
Gender equality is a fight for all of us. It empowers all people to actively participate in their community and it involves advocacy and amplification to gain full participation from all members of society. I am inspired by the need to see a more inclusive society; one that progressively develops as a result of positive mindsets in society, gender equality, good governance, and utilization of everyone’s art as a human. Above all, I am a child of God and it is so delighting because, in everything I do, I do it with love, the love that I get from Christ.
3. Tell us about Femme Talk. What inspired its formation?
Among the various aspects of leadership, I have demonstrated actively; Femme Talk West Nile is an advocacy hub that I lead in the rural areas of my hometown Koboko District. It is a fully registered Community Based Organization (CBO) in Koboko District; registered in September 2020 at the office of the Community Development Officer.
The primary approach of the CBO is streamlined into three aspects; empowering the youth in the region through skilling them with practical skills to shape financially independent young people with emphasis on education both formal and informal. Creating a platform for young people to speak about sexual reproductive health rights and in turn curb sexual harassment and injustices like gender-based violence, rape, forced marriages, and defilement.
Finally, we impact girl child solidarity by standing together with the women in their difficult times and giving a listening ear to their experiences of marginalization through our mentorship circles.
I decided to put up this safe space following the increasing cases of teenage pregnancy in my community; in the first lockdown of 2020 we had over 1000 cases of teenage pregnancy and there was a need to indulge and work together with those already established civil society groups and leaders at different levels.
I had the voice and the courage to speak on behalf of the young women and girls and therefore I had to spearhead the advocacy and in turn, get guidance from those already in existence.
Today, we are more than a year old and have reached more than 900 young people both men and women in schools, and the community. For more information about the hub; follow our media pages @femmetalkwestnile on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and we are excited to receive any form of support to make the agenda sustainable.
4. You’ve climbed the ladder of success very fast…from holding leadership positions like the 23rd Guild Speaker and Member of Parliament of the Law Faculty of Uganda Christian University to being a fellow at several feminist organizations like Akina Mama Wa Afrika, UN Women, to winning several prestigious international awards like SHE GAMES AWARDS in Ghana convened by ALL AFRICA STUDENTS’ UNION among many others. How do you reflect on your journey?
I must say, I have been in active student leadership for more than 10 years now. It dates back to my early primary school days when I always was appointed debate chairperson, and in the school leadership, to my secondary school life where I was also very active in leadership not only for the school but also in the various clubs in the school, and then to university and in turn outside the university setting.
I appreciate your acknowledgment of my leadership positions today. Most times leadership is inborn, that even when you do not set your mind to it, the people around you nominate you, they push you to speak for them and then you just have to do it.
However, there is a burning passion within me to serve. My leadership has always been spearheaded by servanthood and humility. I get fulfilled each time I am a servant of those I lead and I believe my purpose on earth is continuously drawing attention to servanthood, unity in diversity, and changing the various status quos that oppress humanity.
I am proud of myself for every step I have taken because I know that I have learned a lot from those that mentor me, and I am impacting on those I mentor and I am doing my best to add value to my community as well. Leadership can also be embraced as opposed to being born one, and it surfaces at various levels be it in a family, in relationships, at work, politics and so many others, we all can be great leaders for a better world.
5. How did you navigate power structures early in your career versus later in your career when you had a more formal leadership role?
I believed in myself and the power of God to transform me into a better person. I utilized the power of opportunities. I always seize opportunities. I do not sit down and wait for them to come.
My early roles of leadership were less formal and they put me out to the world; to create a basis for me to step higher and I used them to speak at various platforms. For anyone to grow in their career it is important to learn from those there before and even those with you or those coming up, so at every stage of my leadership I have adapted the motivation to learn and to unlearn and that alone makes me a better person for I see value in all those I meet.
6. Describe your leadership style and how you “lead” others. Is it different from your male counterparts?
I think there are many kinds of leadership styles and whether it is my male counterparts or females, it varies on what one decides to choose. I use a mixture of transformational and servant leadership styles.
I focus on clear communication and goal-setting; I focus on growth as a team, with no gap between being a ‘head’. This motivates everyone I serve with to have a rapport with me and in turn, several challenges can be solved at a more personal level.
7. How do you balance school, career, personal life, and passions? Is there such a thing as balance?
Yes, there is such a thing as balance. It is important while multitasking. When I am at school; I lay off a lot of duties to do with community work and at the advocacy hub because these are draining and require one to be physically present on the job. These are most times volunteer opportunities. That leaves me with school leadership and an online presence for most activities to inspire and share with different groups I am called to speak to and spend time with.
And a few times when I have vacant weekends or weekdays is when I can attend certain activities physically. I prioritize my schooling because I am a student first before anything else and until I graduate, that stands. I also try my level best never to miss classes and I read on a daily. I love reading a lot. Be it school work or any literature, I always read. I make sure that while multitasking I have the right to say NO and to rest when my body and mental health need it, so I try never to do too much.
I love everything I do and so it doesn’t drag me so much because either way, what I do in the activism life relates to what I study in school and builds up my knowledge that cuts across everything I engage in.
8. Will we ever reach gender equality in the country? Or is it just a theory that is morally right but can never be realized?
Until gender equality is taken as an emergency, we will achieve it. Gender equality seems so basic but it does affect a lot of what our country has to achieve; economically, socially, politically, there is a lot we can do with gender equality because then we shall have so many brains and efforts at decision making as opposed to policies and an atmosphere that is oppressive to particular individuals and probably lessens the potential of that group.
It cuts across gender, persons with disabilities, tribe, economic background and so much more. It is achievable, we just need to be more intentional and have a transformative approach towards its achievement. I read recently in the UN Women reports of 2020 that it would take us about 130 years to achieve gender equality in the world if we kept on at this current speed.
Laws that are crucial to its achievement need to be prioritized and passed without procrastination, we need to involve many more groups in this intentionality, coupled with passion, mindset change, and positive efforts. I believe we can achieve it. More so, by holding everyone to the same standard. And with it comes a lot of development and a better way of life.
9. How can women “work across divides” of opinions?
Women need to be held to the same standards as everyone else in the community. They need to believe in their potential and avoid having a mindset so diminishing to limit their capability. As opposed to settling for the bare minimum, I think women need to stand up to their needs, and irrespective of having barriers from various sectors, once our minds are set to something, we can achieve it.
We just need to activate the push button and triumph as a tribe of very capable beings. The opinions in society will always be there but once society sees the turn of events through our actions and change of responding to stereotypes, rigid cultures, and all, those opinions will cease to exist and there shall be a transformational setup.
10. As a female leader, what are some of the biases and assumptions you’ve experienced from others? How did you go about them?
I have experienced institutional mindset barriers. They most times have limited my potential in advancement and never given an opportunity because of bias on my age, and being a female leader.
The socially constructed obstacles have also obstructed my capabilities. I am still fighting off some of these challenges but I have managed to remain steadfast; that even when I am pushed off the run, I never lose hope and instead utilize the platforms where I am given an opportunity.
I also pray about these challenges and I am confident of this very thing that he who started a good thing in me shall accomplish it until the day of the Lord, so all these barriers are stepping stones for me to be stronger. I have learned these from my mentors Dr. Miria Matembe, Hon. Amongin Monicah and Ms. Shubrah Kasozi, among many others. Just like many other female leaders out there, I am sure they are faced with more or similar challenges but with the zeal and passion to lead, we are unstoppable, and irrespective of these barriers we are determined to lead and take up our rightful spaces in society.
11. What are the main challenges that the next generation of female leaders need to be cognizant of?
The same challenges I have faced that I have mentioned above and many more like gender insensitive laws and policies and many others. These remain a constant for as long as we have patriarchal systems in place. They are threatened by the breed of unstoppable female leaders not knowing that we come in peace and in positivity to shape the world to become a better place. The next generation of female leaders need not forget the efforts of the female leaders that came before them to level grounds for participation and inclusion, they need to embrace mentorship and stand from to their belief of inclusion and look towards breaking such barriers planted in society and institutions.
12. How do you unplug from work and school? What’s your typical day like?
My typical day keeps varying and I do not know how best to express how it runs. But I try my level best never to miss any lecture at school even amidst days when I have to run guild errands of pushing for student needs and maybe other days when I am a part of a conference on gender equality or a leadership training or academy. It is filled with multitasking; I do not have a diary. I always follow my calendar and activities therein, so I try my level best to get all my to-do lists complete for every single day. Send that email if any, make a few calls, attend class, do assignments, attend an online event or physical, do a lot of reading at night, and surf the internet to keep in touch with the fast-moving world ha-ha. I hope I have done justice to your question. I work all these in at least 14 hours.
13. If you were a brand, which would it be and why?
My entire self would be the brand. Yas! Probably call it my name Patience Poni Ayikoru or my common nickname ‘Pesh Poni’. Haha. Yes, I would be a great brand for being who I am and making an agenda to be a champion for gender equality in Africa and good governance. I love every bit of what I do and I would not want to look any further than myself as a brand and being a Christian, I know that I am chosen and not forsaken.
14. Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, by faith, I hope I will be having a doctorate in law. I see myself as a Professor of Law in the Academia, and also, I hope to have been a Member of Parliament in my country and looking onto being the next UN Women Executive Director. So yes, first in academia, I love teaching and leadership, I will do great especially teaching on Gender and the Law and Human Rights governance, and then a leader in political spaces as I will have a direct channel to policing gender-sensitive laws in the legislature and by then be able to plot to be in the UN for the bible says; Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Matthew 18:6.
15. Parting shots (Last words)
I am very grateful to God who blessed me with a passion for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment because, in the pursuit of this passion, he has revealed to me who a woman is before him. For everything that you do, you need to have a purpose, one to drive for a positive change and to add value to wherever your efforts go. A purpose-driven kind of life or leadership is more result-oriented and leaves a great mark behind. Know that his mercies are new every morning and you have the potential to deliver at whatever stage in life you are in, irrespective of the barriers in place. Possess the unstoppable kind of energy and do it for love. Philippians 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that he, who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus”.