International Women’s Day: The 3 amazing women who changed politics in Kenya

Kenyan women in power

Politics in Kenya is undoubtedly a male-dominated field. Women have perennially been pushed to the periphery and their relevance is only ‘discovered’ when elections draw nigh.

It is only during politically charged seasons that there is a frenzy by men to reach out to women. In a sudden flurry, they fall all over themselves to provide food, clothing and other handouts to the previously forgotten folk.

 

However, there are a few women who have gone against the tide. By actively refusing to be defined by society’s standards which stipulates – the woman’s place is the kitchen, where she can quietly cook.

While celebrating International Women's Day, Pulselive.co.ke took a look at 3 amazing women who forever changed the politics of Kenya and quietly whispered to a 5-year-old girl: There is a place for you in the world and all you need to do is #PressforProgress.

1. Wangari Maathai

The late Maathai remains an African icon even in her grave. When her name is mentioned at any national or international forum, the first thing everyone old enough to know her thinks about is the environment.

 

She was a bold environmentalist who stood up against the dictatorial regime of retired President Daniel Moi even in the face of intimidation.

She is the main reason Nairobi still has Uhuru Park as a recreational facility. She led protests against Mr. Moi who wanted to privatize the area by constructing the highest building in Africa that would have been a sixty-two storey.

“Next to the skyscraper he was going to put a four-storey statue of himself (so you could pat his head from the fourth floor). All of downtown Nairobi would have had to be restructured.

"That building would have been so intimidating, that even if some land in the small park remained, no one would have dared come near it. Very intimidating," she says in her memoir – Unbowed.

Maathai never fazed even when men threatened to circumcise her because of  her outspoken nature.

She was beaten up, jailed and tortured but always believed her skin was as thick as that of an elephant and fear was her biggest enemy.

The 2004 Nobel Laureate winner rallied women to take care of the environment by planting trees – a move that saw the rise of The Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

The former Assistant Minister, who was the first woman to hold a doctorate degree in East and Central Africa, tried her chance to clinch the Presidential seat during the 1997 General Election but failed.

However, this disappointment did not quash the fighter spirit brimming on her inside as she went ahead to serve as a Member of Parliament.

She spoke up against Parliament’s chauvinistic tendencies and violence against women which she alleged President Moi propagated.

Because of this legend, Kenya has been a better place for women in one way or the other.

2. Martha Karua

This one-time presidential candidate earned herself the moniker Iron Lady after working among numerous men in the murky field of politics without losing her stand.

 

It is impossible to speak about politics without mentioning this woman who was courageous enough to resign from President Mwai Kibaki's Cabinet when the powerful in Government wanted to silence her as the Minister of Justice.

She was also bold to walk out during a meeting with retired President Daniel Moi when she was removed from the list of those who would be allowed to address the gathering.

The trained lawyer and former magistrate refused to join the pack whenever she felt that her values did not augur well with what was being shoved down her throat.

She has been at the forefront championing for the rights of women and worked tirelessly to see Women Organizations are not the stereotypical gossip centers.

In one of her speeches, Ms. Karua disclosed: “My reason for not joining women’s organizations was the perception that they will lead one nowhere other than facilitate gossip!”.

 

However, after changing her perception the former Gichugu MP went ahead to join Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (FIDA) and was awarded for advancing women issues.

Her legislative works have seen developments in the Constitution and the family law.

During the 2017 General Election, she dived into the deep sea to make a come back in active politics by vying for the Kirinyaga Gubernatorial seat, which she lost to Anne Waiguru.

3. Charity Ngilu

The now Kitui Governor was the first woman in Kenya to vie for the Presidency in a daring bid to eject President Moi. This was during the 1992 General Election.

 

Ms. Ngilu braved police beatings that were launched at her political campaigns as she believed if she could not do it no one else would stand up against the Moi Regime.

"It's worthwhile simply because somebody has to do it. I cannot sit back and watch and wait and say, 'Who can do this?' I must do this.

“I am qualified because I am what Kenyans are looking for–a committed, dedicated, honest person who can lead them through the problems they have," Ngilu believed.

Coming from a community that is frequently hit by drought, Ms Ngilu strived to ensure that people were adequately supplied with water by digging wells all around the area.

The former Health Minister has never deflected from fighting for the rights of women. In 2016, she called for the arrest of men who had taken advantage of a girl, lured into prostitution by her mother because of poverty.

 

Mama Ngilu, as she is fondly known, promised to pay the school fees of the girl identified Carol after her education was stolen from her.

“Any man who slept with this tiny girl should be in jail. It’s very sad, but I will make sure this does not happen again. I will take her out of her current home and take her to a school where she can teach as she waits to join campus in September,” she was quoted by the Standard as saying.

At the same time, Ngilu has been mentioned in several corruption scandals with the latest one resulting to her sacking at the Lands Ministry where she was the Cabinet Secretary.

Despite the flaws the three women might have, they have made an impact in the Kenyan politics.

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