Why does International Women's Day matter to you?

It is 5 a.m. It is dark and cold. All you can see and hear are flashlights and the sounds of women singing as they open their gates for goats to go grazing.

The woman must then milk the cows before retreating to prepare breakfast for her husband and children! All this time the husband is sleeping and will expect to get breakfast before he leaves home, not returning until late in the night.

A Maasai girl who is not educated most of the time and is regarded as a child irrespective of her age, then must manage the home for the rest of the day.

This is the story of the women in my community.

Mary Shompole, an RTI staff member based in Kenya, in traditional clothing

Mary attending a global RTI cultural event, adorned in a Maasai woman's attire

I come from a very mixed heritage. My mother is from the Kikuyu community from central Kenya and my father is from the Maasai community in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

When I was a little girl, my mother always reminded me that girls must work twice as hard compared to the boys. In the Maasai community only the sons were educated, and the girls were left at home and married off at a very young age.

Luckily, that was not the case for me and my siblings. My father, Peter Shompole ole Leroka, a retired teacher and author of Dare to Defy, valued education and gave all his daughters and sons equal education opportunities.

My father is my gender equality champion because he defied tradition and took all of us to school. He believed that the only way to create equal opportunities was by sending all of us to school.

He paid special attention to his daughters as he sought to break the circle of ignorance and poverty. He not only educated us, but also allowed us to inherit his land alongside his sons.

For me, International Women’s Day is the day we celebrate people like my dad and others who have changed the lives of girls and given them a chance to compete in life.

This day also matters to me because it serves to remind us of where we came from and the need to continue to create more champions so that more girls get equal chances in life.

Mary Shompole, an RTI staff member based in Kenya, in a graduation cap and gown

Mary Shompole during her graduation in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development from Daystar University

In the context of your work and experiences, why are you passionate about gender equality?

A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen for a while because she and her family were forced to relocate upcountry due to COVID-19 challenges. My friend was away for nearly a year, working from home. But she didn’t like the experience.

She was having anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, and reproductive complications because she had previously undergone female genital mutilation, and her employer was not very supportive. She had been going for hospital visits and exhausted her sick days. My friend felt helpless.

After hearing her story, so many questions ran through my mind: How did this happen? What could I have done to help? What could I have done to support my friend as Mary Shompole, the Regional Operations Coordinator, if she had worked at RTI International?

I am very privileged to work at RTI, which has dedicated programs that address gender equality to promote fair treatment. We need more organizations to create this inclusive workplace that can support people like my friend.

How can we all become gender champions at the workplace? 

I joined RTI back in 2013 as the RTI Kenya office logistics coordinator, supervising a team of eight male drivers. RTI gave me an opportunity to bravely break the barriers in a male-dominated industry. Over the past 9 years, I have been promoted to the regional operations specialist and now the regional operations coordinator. We need to continue to create opportunities, such as being inclusive in hiring women as certified drivers. We want more women to say “Yes I can do this,” take away some of the restrictive gender norms and redefine what is considered “women’s work”.

In addition, RTI has given me leadership opportunities as a woman. I have led a working parent’s resource group in Africa, managed the community partnership programs, and received the President’s Administration Award, the Best Logistics Staff award, and other “Spot Awards." I was recently nominated the next executive sponsor for the Working Parents Resource Group in Africa, and I am very excited to take up the new role.

As a mother of three sons (15 years old, 10 years old and a toddler), working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, RTI has strategically designed our work environment to give us a flexible schedule that addresses the unique needs of women at the workplace. Remote work has promoted work-life balance and opened opportunities for those from various cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. My role as a mother of sons is to help reduce gender discrimination in the society. Gender equality begins at home, and families are at the front lines of change. For the next generation, the examples set at home by parents, care-givers and extended family are shaping the way they think about gender and equality.

Mary Shompole, an RTI staff member based in Kenya, and her sons

Mary posing with her three sons. From left: Kaylan, Kaysel and Kyle

Why does RTI address gender issues?

I believe that RTI addresses gender issues internally to increase productivity and to create a culture of care where employees are family. RTI elevates women to leadership roles and invites them to the table and to voice their issues. I also believe that RTI addresses gender issues in its work because it is critical to our mission: eliminating gender inequalities is fundamental to improving the human condition – for all humans.

How does RTI Break the Bias? What does that mean in the context of RTI’s work?

RTI, in collaboration with USAID, broke the bias by implementing an education policy on gender equality and female empowerment inline with the global efforts toward greater gender equality and inclusiveness in education. RTI provided guidance on how to develop and evaluate materials free of bias which promoted equality and inclusiveness of all marginalized, disadvantaged, and underrepresented groups.

Another way that RTI works to eliminate gender inequality is through the presence of the RTI Global Gender Center, which brings together over 400 internal and external experts whose work addresses critical gender issues to promote collaboration.

RTI breaks the bias by supporting employees who choose to express their gender identity using their desired pronouns. We affirm gender identity and show respect for one another by using individuals’ proper pronouns. Using pronouns the wrong way may misgender and disrespect an individual.

Employee resource groups like Women's Advancement, Leadership and Success (WALS) ERG have been actively engaging staff in helping address professional issues for women. These groups advocatefor pay equity and collaborate  with RTIUx to provide training on career development and leadership growth.

RTI recently introduced a new Lead Forward Behavior to Engage Inclusively for FY22 goals. This means that we all have an opportunity to personally deepen our ability to engage inclusively with one another.

RTI also facilitates a mentorship program which focuses on giving equal professional development opportunities to all staff. Young career women at RTI have a chance to grow into leadership!

As the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day aptly put it, it is time to bravely #BreakTheBias. Call out gender bias and inequality for what it is and take deliberate action to address it. Therefore, let’s challenge ourselves and be inspired by various milestones achieved towards gender parity, both individually and collectively. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.

We can break the bias in our communities. We can break the bias in our workplaces.

I hope to see many of you at RTI’s upcoming International Women’s Day events:

  1. March 4, 2:00-3:00pm ET: 13th Annual Local to Global Forum hosted by the RTI Global Gender Center and WomenNC.
  2. March 8, 8:30-9:30am ET: Cultivating Change: Increasing women’s access to off-grid productive use of energy for agriculture hosted by the RTI Women’s Advancement, Leadership, and Success Employee Resource Group (Africa) and private sector clean energy companies.
  3. March 9, 11:00am-12:30pm ET: RTI Celebrates International Women’s Day 2022: Bravely Breaking the Bias hosted by the RTI Women’s Advancement, Leadership, and Success Employee Resource Group (North America); the RTI Global Gender Center; and the RTI International Development Group.

Learn more about RTI's Global Gender Center and Gender Equity and Disparity solutions.