Explore UCD

UCD Home >

Celebrating Inspirational Women Series 2022: Dr. Purity Mwendwa

Wednesday, 30 November, 2022

News Item Celebrating Inspirational Women Series 2022: Dr. Purity Mwendwa

Please join us in celebrating International Women's Day 2022 with a series titled "Inspirational Women". Eighth and last in this series is an interview with Dr. Purity Mwendwa.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I was born and raised in rural Kenya. I moved to Ireland in 2009 to do my master’s degree which was followed by Ph.D. studies in global health. I am currently an Irish Research Council funded post-doctoral researcher in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems. My research portfolio is influenced by my experiences growing up in Kenya and those gained working and travelling in various parts of the world. I have worked in several countries and settings with a focus on equity, social justice, and empowerment. My current project explores the readiness of men to support the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and women’s perceptions of men’s involvement in anti-FGM interventions in Kenya. FGM is a tradition rooted in culture and involves the partial or total removal or other injury to the female genitals for non-medical reasons. Men’s significant role as fathers, husbands, and community leaders may influence the intention to have FGM performed. However, they often lack the opportunities and support to voice their stand and are often at many different stages of readiness to change, which might determine the effectiveness of anti-FGM campaigns. My project employs a participatory approach to examine how to engage more effectively with men and strengthen opportunities for dialogue between men and women. Working with community members, we are currently co-designing an action plan aimed at promoting men’s participation in the abandonment of FGM and enhancing the collaboration between men and women to end FGM.

I have also begun building up a research profile in the area of brain health with a special focus on dementia. My interest in this area is motivated by first-hand experiences of being a family carer for a person with dementia and my professional expertise as a nursing care assistant for older people in Ireland. Dementia has yet to be fully recognised as a major public health challenge in the African context. While prevalence rates are still substantially lower compared to high resource settings, such as the US, UK, Japan, or Europe, it will become a major challenge for African health care systems over the next decades. Currently, there is little public discourse or awareness of dementia in most African countries. Understanding of the condition is even limited among health professionals. It is even less understood by families and communities affected by dementia. I am motivated to engage with the area of dementia in acknowledgement of the current dearth of practice understanding as well as research work on the topic among these groups. In 2017 I embarked on a programme of work, initially, self-funded, to understand the knowledge and support gaps. So far, I have provided information sessions in churches and other community settings, interviewed key stakeholders about their conceptualisation of dementia and unmet needs and spoken about the issue at major international academic conferences.

When I am not working with communities or engaging in research, I spend time gardening. I am also a self-taught interior designer and never seem to run out of DIY projects. I also love acting and modelling (!).

What are your goals for this year?

I would like to conclude my FGM study and produce an innovative tool for communities to use in Kenya and other places to determine and enhance communities’ readiness to work with men towards the abandonment of FGM. I am also excited and really looking forward to travelling to San Diego next month as part of my Fulbright Health Impact award. I will undertake my Fulbright scholarship at the University of California, San Diego, a world class institution with a long standing track record on working with migrant populations in San Diego, to broaden my understanding about community working with people with dementia and their families. My hope is to bring back the learning from San Diego to the Irish context and hopefully, help inform the models of support for people with dementia from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Why do you think it is important to have female role models?

Female role models can inspire and influence women and girls to strive to achieve their true potential even in the face of adversity. In the context of my work on FGM, positive female role models are important as they can influence decision making relating to the practice. In a world dominated by male career models, girls and young women need to see what is possible, especially in patriarchal societies; this is critical. Often the door to opportunities is never opened for them and their place is predetermined. It is important to show them early that they can do everything they wish just like men.

Is there a woman during your career that has inspired you?

My life and career have been inspired by so many women; it would be impossible to name them all. I will talk about three of these women. My late maternal grandmother, Beatrice Nkoroi inspired my work on FGM. After undergoing FGM and suffering severe health consequences, she defied tradition and did not subject any of her daughters and subsequently her granddaughters to the practice. She is my hero. And then there is the late Professor Wangari Maathai, an advocate for social justice and human rights and Nobel laureate. Her courage and determination reminds me that, no matter who we are in society or where we are in the world we can implement small changes that can potentially make a huge difference in our lives and communities. Last, but by no means least is my mother, Rael Mutea, another tenacious and determined woman. After retiring from her teaching career, she began working with volunteers to visit and provide care to needy older people in her community. She never fails to amaze me. Recently (at age 76) she released her first music album. She reminds me that one is never too old to follow their passion.

If you could wind back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self?

It would be to use and apply my creativity more; develop my entrepreneurial spirit early on, looking sideways, not just straight ahead towards academic career pathways but harnessing other opportunities. I think even more importantly, I would take time to relax a bit more and just enjoy life.

Why do you think you were asked to participate in this series?

I was honestly surprised and humbled that my colleagues see me as inspirational. I am often invited to schools and by community groups, both here in Ireland and in Kenya, to inspire young girls and boys. I am reminded of some of the young girls and boys who tell me time and again that I inspire them. My motto has always been to try and make a difference wherever I am through sharing stories and my research. This nomination certainly makes me feel proud and encourages me to keep up the work that I am doing.

Do you have any parting words of wisdom for the next generation of female nurses, midwives and healthcare professionals?

Work hard but listen to your heart. Following guidelines and research evidence are important but don’t forget that you are a human being first who relates to other human beings. Accept that people are individuals first, and that they come from diverse backgrounds. There is huge diversity in the world. For healthcare providers empathy is key. They need to learn to see and understand life and circumstances from the perspective of their patients, not only on the basis of clinical guidelines or research evidence. It is vital that they involve patients closely in decision-making. This takes time and personal humility. Observe, listen, understand, and involve before you act.

Contact the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems

Health Sciences Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4
T: +353 1 716 6488 | Location Map(opens in a new window)