The female TikTokers influencing minds, shaping society

Doreen Moraa Moracha

Doreen Moraa Moracha.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

What you need to know:

  • Today Gen Z and Millennials are changing activism, by naturally bringing it online.
  • As we mark International Women's Day 2022, we reached out to TikTok management to give us the top rated Kenyan women who have been using the App to impact the community positively

As a place where hundreds of thousands of young Kenyans perform and explore their identities in public, TikTok has become a prominent venue for ideological formation, political activism, and trolling.

The video App that was launched in 2016 by the Chinese technology company ByteDance now boasts over one billion monthly active user's majority of them Generation Z. 

But the video-sharing App that was first touted as a playground for the young, with little substance, is becoming a force to reckon with when it comes to raising awareness and discussing serious issues that afflict society. 

Today Gen Z and Millennials are changing activism, by naturally bringing it online. A survey dubbed The Not Waiting on the World to Change trend found that 57 percent of 13-39-year-olds believe that they have the power to change things in the real world if they make enough noise online, while 42 percent of 13-39-year-olds have used a hashtag on social media to support a social movement. While these generations were once accused of "slacktivism" for their social media-fueled social good efforts, they have been witness to those efforts and online movements resulting in real change in the real world.

One researcher told the New York Times that they were struck by how "front-and-center youth identities are on TikTok" compared to other social media platforms, and it seems that the app is naturally lending itself to young consumers rallying around social issues—and calling out inequalities.

Young Kenyans have not been left behind. They are part of the content creators globally pursuing real issues via the platform.

As we mark International Women's Day 2022, we reached out to TikTok management to give us the top popular Kenyan women who have been using the App to impact the community positively. Here is the story of four young TikTokers. 

Teaching African history beyond the colonial lens

Vivian Taabu Okumu (Swiry Nyar Kano)

Swiry Nyar Kano alias Vivian Taabu Okumu

Swiry Nyar Kano alias Vivian Taabu Okumu. 

Photo credit: Pool

Popularly known by her sobriquet Swiry Nyar Kano, fashion designer Taabu has managed to attract over 800,000 followers on TikTok by posting unusual content. 

Taabu who is among one of the most followed Kenyans on the App always comes in loaded with juicy, hot African history facts which sometimes leaves a number of her followers confused, startled, and appreciative. Interestingly she started uploading such content in May last year and gained huge traction and with it, followers came in flowing like water in a burst pipe. 

"Within two months I had gathered one million followers," she says. 

In her bio, she describes Africa as 'Afrika is Alkebulan' which translates to Africa as the 'mother of mankind' or alternatively Africa as the 'garden of Eden.' Nyar Kano believes even though she did not expect it, her huge following is by no fluke because the kind of African history she shares, is one that is never taught in Kenyan schools.

"The African history taught in our schools is mostly composed of biased colonial lies that always paint Africa as a barbaric, uncivilized, savage, war-infested continent. Schools history only addresses slavery and the colonisation of African people yet Africa is the mother of civilization," she goes on.

However, the fashionista notes that she had been posting African history content on other social media platforms for years but never got any attention. But this did not kill her passion to try and make Africans understand their heritage. Even when she took the same content on TikTok, she expected the same outcome.

"I had no idea I would attract such a following because I had been talking about African history on Facebook for years but nobody paid attention. When I started on Tiktok I thought the results would be the same. At some point I was shocked when Beyonce's manager posted me on his stories," she says. 

Due to her vast knowledge about African history, many have presumed that she is a historian by profession but alas! "I don't have a degree in History and I don't need one because like I said, modern education doesn't teach true history. What is taught is not our history," remarks Nyar Kano who studied Microbiology and Biotechnology. 

Although Taabu is appreciative of TikTok having given her a sense of purpose to exercise her skills and impact the African community, she has her fair share of disappointments. 

"I face racism on TikTok, and we are many who complain. The platform itself discriminates and disrespects black people all the time because systematic racism has its roots very deep in this world," Nyar Kano laments.

Nonetheless, she is very satisfied with the impact she has created through her activism that has seen her get recognised.

"I won two awards; Positive impact Award and Voice for Africa Awards. I was competing against notable people in Africa, the likes of Mo Abudu, with millions of followers but I won. That to me meant that I am creating the impact that's needed. I also received a lot of messages and monetary appreciations from people thanking me for my posts," she prides. 

Despite Africa still being behind in many ways, Nyar Kano insists the continent is heading in the right direction and with her kind of activism, things can only get better.

"The beauty of it is that the necessary changes are already being made. Congo decided to take control of its resources, Mali kicked the French out, Ghana is no longer exporting its cocoa to exploitative colonisers and the African Union has made Kiswahili the official working language. All these have happened within one year," Swiry Nyar Kano, surmises. 

The doctor talking about sex and reproductive health issues

Dr Claire Kinuthia (They Call Me Daktari)

Dr Claire Kinuthia

Dr Claire Kinuthia. 

Photo credit: Pool

37-year-old Kinuthia is an obstetrician and gynecologist with over 12 years of experience and has been using TikTok to offer medical tips.

"I am very passionate about sexual and reproductive health (SRH). From numerous discussions with my patients over the course of my career, I realised that there was a huge gap in access to accurate, easy-to-understand healthcare information, especially on taboo topics such as those in SRH," she says.

Claire who until joining TikTok had been sharing the information on her blog 'They Call Me Daktari' decided to join the App to extend her work into creating health topics content specifically SRH having realised that young people spend a lot of time on social platforms.

"That is how 5'-minute Fridays' was born, which is a medical series of episodes posted every Friday on my Instagram, and Facebook pages. They are short, detailed, and super easy to understand with no medical jargon. As the series grew in popularity, I jumped onto TikTok as well," Claire says. 

Claire fancies TikTok more because it presented her with an opportunity to make medical content in a fun, trendy way. "Putting a medical content spin has been entertaining, to say the least. It has forced me to think outside the box on sharing medical information," Claire notes. The doctor says her content is organised and shared under monthly themes. 

"Sex is still a very taboo topic in Kenya, especially to the older generations. We are still a very conservative society, so speaking about sex on social media causes quite a stir. These videos are shared much more widely than any other I have created. Some actually went viral and I gained a bigger following," Claire says. 

Dr. Kinuthia believes she has made an impact judging from the responses and reactions she has received.

"Most parents shy away from discussing sex with their children so when my videos were shared, several people, especially mothers reached out to thank me for the content because they became an ice-breaker. This has been the best-unexpected result," she adds.

Her engagement with her over 13,000 followers on TikTok, has made her realise that there is a huge appetite for accurate medical, health, and wellness information. Much more information can be found on her They Call me Daktari blog which she founded in 2015 and won the Best New Blog award at the Bloggers Association Of Kenya (BAKE) Awards in 2016.

Stopping societal and self-stigma of people living with HIV

Doreen Moraa Moracha

Doreen Moraa Moracha

Doreen Moraa Moracha.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

Moraa has been living with HIV since birth having contracted the virus from her mother. Of the 29 years she has lived, she has been on Antiretrovirals (ARVs) drugs for 17 years now.

She learnt of her HIV status while she was 13. Her parents who had lived as a discordant couple for over 30 years had kept her diagnosis a secret for five years for fear that she was too young to cope with the reality.

The third-born of four siblings went public with her HIV status in May 2015 readily aware of the kind of stigma she was going to encounter. Since coming out, she became a HIV anti-stigma crusader and uses any platforms at her disposal for activism and advocacy to fight any form of stigmatisation against people living with HIV. 

"When I first started, I was just doing TikTok videos for fun which I still do but I realised I could use it as a tool for edutainment on matters of HIV as I do with my other social media platforms and my following kept growing," she says of her account that boasts of over 89,000 followers.

Despite the challenges she has had to encounter over the years fighting stigma, she says the journey has been awesome with lots of growth as well.

"The stigma is still there; however it is not as bad as in the past. I do get trolled here and there but I learned not to take it personally. It's not hard or easy living with HIV publicly, because as much as I do it to fight stigma sometimes people tend to not differentiate that despite my status, I have a life," Moraa says. 

Moraa notes that stigma against HIV people has evolved and the levels have dropped as well, quoting a study titled stigma index 2.0.

"It indicated that the stigma levels are not as high however we still have to encourage people living with HIV on self-stigma because that's the most challenging one," she says.

With TikTok at her disposal as a tool of advocacy, Moraa has made a huge impact not only on herself but on her legion of fans and the community at large.

"Since I started using Tiktok as an advocacy tool, I was featured by Apple on their discovery page on world AIDS day last year and it also shaped my involvement in the digital tool that the International AIDS Society is creating for young people in HIV response. 

She is also more proud that she has become a pillar to many of her kind who at some point stopped taking their ARVs.

"There are people who reach out to me about being afraid of starting their treatment, some stopped taking ARVs some are afraid of testing and I advise them. For those cases, I can't handle I refer them to experts," Moraa says. 

Feeding the hungry and nursing the less-able one voice at a time

Moesha Kibibi Tajiri (Moesha Kay)

Moesha Kibibi Tajiri Moesha Kay

Moesha Kibibi Tajiri (Moesha Kay).

Photo credit: Pool

Professional choreographer Kibibi Tajiri's name mimics her deeds, 'A woman with a big heart'. The only founding female member of the award-winning popular Focus Beyond Dance Crew Kenya (FBI), won the second edition of the Sakata Dance Battle in 2011 having emerged runners-up in the previous edition.

With her crew, 27-year-old Kibibi became the first female to represent Kenya on some of the largest international dance stages catching the eye of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto.

Born and raised in Majengo slums, Kibibi lost her parents at the age of 13 forcing her to the streets. While on the streets, her entrepreneurial skills kicked in where she started selling groundnuts.

With her hustle, she was able to put herself through form one even as she took dancing classes. In 2009 she teamed up with friends to form the FBI dance crew. Her life changed when the FBI won one million shillings. In turn, she decided to dedicate her life to the service of the disadvantaged in society. With her income, money from donors, sponsors, and well-wishers, she has been able to support over 2,500 deserving children by taking them to school.

"I have kids in almost every county and I make sure they are in school, they have food, medicine, and clothes. I have some who are living with disabilities and some are HIV positive," Kibibi explains.

The dance queen joined TikTok to champion and create awareness on the importance of helping the less privileged in society.

"I have been on TikTok for years now and I have been using it to reach out and also inspire people to try and do what I have been doing. Also, I have been using the platform to try and seek government support which unfortunately has never come. Nonetheless, I will keep on advocating for this cause because I believe it's noble," Tajiri says of her 155,000 followers in her verified TikTok account. 

Kibibi says she has no other job other than being a mentor to the 2,500 and the less privileged.

"I'm a full-time mentor of 25,000 kids, the elderly, and those with special needs. This is what I do besides being a professional dancer," she affirms.

Kibibi concludes by noting that she will keep up with her course for as long as it takes because that's the only thing that gives her satisfaction. 

About International Women’s Day (IWD)

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8th and sees a number of missions to help forge a gender equal world. Celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key. IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. 

This year the theme is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, and calls for climate action for women, by women. A key mission this year is to advance gender equality in the time of the climate crisis through women’s leadership. The hashtag #BreakTheBias is a focal point for this year’s campaign to raise awareness and rally for gender equality.