Former women leader Jane Kiano succumbs to cancer

Vice-president of Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation Jane Kiano [C] joins traditional dancers in Murang'a.

After an eventful life and a solid public career spanning five decades, the late Jane Kiano’s journey ends today at Kariakor Crematorium in a private ceremony.

Going with the smoke up the diesel-powered crematorium will be the story of the woman achiever who won the heart of Kenya’s first PhD holder, Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano, buried miles away in Weithaga ACK church in Murang’a County.

A consummate leader by her own right, the former Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation Chairperson (1971-1984) chairperson and founder died at 74 on Thursday night of lung cancer. Yesterday, she was mourned by three of Kenya’s four presidents - retired Presidents Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki and President Uhuru Kenyatta - and the entire constellation of Kenyan political leadership.

“Yes, she will be cremated but it will be a private affair. The public memorial will be held on November 2 at St Francis Church in Karen,” her nephew and family representative, Irungu Houghton confirmed.

Besides MYWO, Mrs Kiano served other organisations among them the National Integration and Cohesion Commission, and was the force behind construction of MYWO headquarters in Nairobi. She was born in Tumutumu, Nyeri, where she trained as a teacher before moving to Nairobi. Yesterday the family spoke fondly of a generous mother and national figure.

“She gave 50 years of her life to public service. She first held the position of chairperson at 22 and for 30 years she did not take a salary for her work with women,” Houghton said.

President Kenyatta said the country had lost a visionary leader whose wise counsel and guidance would be missed. “As we mourn and pay homage to this visionary leader, let us also celebrate her life and achievements. Her inspirational life will remain a great legacy to her family and many others who knew her,” he said.

Trail blazer

Former President Moi mourned her death, saying that her leadership at MYWO for many years was outstanding. “She was a trail blazer and belonged to a league that believed in equal opportunity for all gender,” Baringo Senator Gideon Moi added.

In his condolences, Kibaki described her as the personification of women empowerment. “I am greatly saddened by the passing on of Mrs Jane Kiano….Jane’s family has been close to mine for years,” said former President Kibaki. Several women leaders also spoke to the Saturday Standard, conveying their condolences. “I used to call her mum. She gave me my first job as a programmes officer at the national councils of women of Kenya,” said former Nairobi Speaker Beatrice Elachi.

Former Nairobi Woman Representative Rachel Shebesh is another mentee of the late Kiano. “Maendeleo gave birth to the two-thirds Gender Bill and affirmative action. And Kiano was the pioneer. She handed me the torch to continue mentoring, so this loss is very personal to me,” she said. Zipporah Kittony, former chair of Maendeleo ya Wanawake, said, “She was a dear friend, a sister and changed women’s lives in Kenya. I mourn Jane with a lot of humility.”

Martha Karua in a tweet described the late as “a dear friend, role model, and mentor, and a matriarch of the women’s movement in Kenya.”

“We choose to remember Jane Kiano as an indefatigable woman leader who championed the cause of gender equality at a time when her generation considered the women movement radical and unconventional,” Dr Joyce Mutinda, chairperson of the National Gender and Equality Commission said. MYWO national chairperson, Rahab Muiu said Kiano’s investment prowess would influence the lives of people all over the world.