He grew up around oppressed women. Now he's fighting for their rights in a brilliant way.

Growing up in rural Kenya, Nick Oketch became acutely aware of how differently women and men were treated there.

In his small village in Siaya County, which is in the western part of Kenya, things like forced arranged marriages, wife battering, and polygamy were commonplace. Oketch's own two sisters were married off when they were only 12-years-old.

It wasn't hard for him to see how all these patriarchal practices undermined young women's development, and stifled their ability to become empowered.


This oppressive environment also didn't provide adolescents with many outlets where they could learn about reproductive healthcare. So unsurprisingly, Siaya County has the second highest HIV prevalence rates out of Kenya’s 47 counties.

Photo via Noah Terricks/Unsplash.

When Oketch made that connection, he knew he had to do something to help break the cycle.

"I had always been dreaming of a world where each and every person has the freedom to exercise their reproductive health rights without discrimination or stigmatization," writes Oketch in an email.

So in 2008, as a senior in high school, he launched the Paradigm Youth Network Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for the sexual, legal, social, and cultural rights of marginalized women, children, and men in Kenya. By challenging outdated societal traditions and attitudes, it aims to build a safer environment for the people of Kenya, especially the marginalized groups who are most threatened by the status quo.

The organization offers services like training and empowerment workshops, access to reproductive health information, and support for communities who may not have access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.

And since adolescents are the most at risk when it comes to the effects of lacking sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), Paradigm targets them specifically. They've reached over 8,000 adolescents to date.

Masaai young women in Kenya. Photo by Ninara/Flickr.

However, sexual health is a delicate subject, and Oketch knew there were many more youths who were afraid to ask for help. So he utilized technology and social media to bridge that gap.

He named his creation LucyBot. LucyBot is a bot that lives in Facebook Messenger and offers sexual and reproductive health information and advice to young people who might otherwise not seek it out. She's filled with verified facts that she then relays to users who can ask her whatever questions they might have on the subject.

Oketch actually developed the idea out of conversations he had with leaders from Women Deliver — a nonprofit that bolsters people who are fighting for gender equality and focused on SRHR — of which he is also a member.

"Chatting with Lucy is just like chatting with any other friend on the platform [except she's probably much more knowledgable], and it is important for us to make the user experience fun and informative," explains Oketch.

What are the most common sexually transmitted infections? Click on this link and #ask LucyBot: m.me/LucyBot2017

Posted by LucyBot, Your Sexual Health Rights Buddy on Thursday, August 23, 2018

So far, LucyBot's reached over 1,5000 Kenyan adolescents, and it's still only in beta testing.

LucyBot is now in final stages of development, but the last test is perhaps the most important one.

They're testing her on 1,000 students from three counties in Kenya through a project called the `De-stigmatizing Sex Education in Kenya through Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative.' The project involves training 30 other students to conduct research and perform community outreach to gather a range of questions that adolescents might ask LucyBot. They'll then populate the bot with as much relevant information as possible, and see if she's able to answer the 1,000 students' questions satisfactorily.

If all goes according to plan, they'll officially launch, targeting the 18-25 demographic via Facebook and other media campaigns.

Oketch's hope is that LucyBot will encourage adolescents to speak up and demand the sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights they deserve, but he also recognizes the responsibility shouldn't all be on them.

Photo via Esteban Castle/Unsplash.

"We need to work on training the health workers to create a friendly environment in the health facilities so that young people can be more comfortable visiting to get the services they need," he writes.

"Also parents should be enlightened to be more free in talking about reproductive health topics to their adolescent children, so that they don’t resort to getting information from peers which can be misleading."

While LucyBot is poised to make a huge difference in the lives of Kenyan adolescents, many in rural Kenya don't have regular access to the internet. So Paradigm's doing something about that, too.

"We are starting a youth resource center with computers and mobile phones  to ensure that youths who don't have mobile phones or internet can interact with LucyBot for free," explains Oketch. They're currently running a fundraiser to help pay for the equipment. (You can donate to it here.)  

In the meantime, Oketch is continuing to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights by imploring policymakers to improve access to family planning options for Kenyans in rural areas.

On the ground, he's aiming to positively impact the sexual and reproductive health of 2,000 Kenyans each year. And now that he's got an innovative information bot in his corner, he should have no problem reaching his goal.

Photo via Oketch.

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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