Nominated MP Sarah Paulata Korere broke the norm by breastfeeding within Parliament. She spoke to David Odongo about going through FGM, escaping early marriage and being her father’s least favourite child
Why did you openly defy the norm to breastfeed your baby in Parliament?
My daughter has to get what she is entitled to, which is six months of exclusive breast feeding. A child should suckle, and there was no way I was going to leave my daughter at home. I would be pleasing some people, but hurting her.
What was the reaction from fellow legislators?
Surprisingly, I received backlash from some female legislators who said walking around with young children is outdated. Most female parliamentarians really encouraged me, but many male colleagues didn‘t know what to say. Some told me they admired what I do to ensure my daughter is healthy, while others told me it was best that I leave my daughter at home and attend strictly to Parliament business.
Tell us more about your childhood.
I was born in Laikipia to a wealthy Maasai elder, who had six wives. My father didn‘t believe in educating girls, and gave each of his six wives 400 heads of cattle and 200 sheep to cater for their children. I was taken to school by Catholic missionaries. From six years, I stayed in a boarding school since I could not walk 20 kilometres to school daily. My primary school years had a definite impact on how I view the world today. Every year, more girls would drop out of school to get married, yet I stayed on, a fact that didn‘t impress the boys who would beat me up. The first time I cried, but the second time, I turned on them and beat the physically, and when exams came, I also beat them.
How come you didn‘t get married at a young age, like your sisters?
All through my primary and secondary school, dozens of men came to talk to my father, they wanted to marry me, and my father agreed, but I refused and promised to run away if they married me off. This really made my father angry, and I became his least favourite child. In university, I met my husband, a civil servant who paid 14 cows in dowry. We have three children. By the time my father died a few years back, I was his favourite daughter, and he took all my younger step-sisters to school.
You are very passionate about fighting FGM. Are you a victim?
They did it to me when I was 12 years, I didn‘t even know what was being done to me, had I been older, I would have even run away. In my culture, once a girl is circumcised, she is ready to be a woman, have sex, get married and have a family. FGM has led to a huge number of girls dropping out of school, from 12 years, the girls think they can sleep with men, and even have babies without the community backlash. If an uncircumcised woman get a baby, she becomes an outcast and the baby might even be killed.
Has your campaign yielded any results?
Yes, I credit the increased enrollment and continued stay of girls in school within Laikipia as my biggest achievement to date. I, with help from donors, run a centre that caters for children who want to go back to school. We have about 60 children at the centre, many of them escaped from early marriages to go to school.
How did you get into Parliament?
When I graduated from university, I went back to Laikipia and started teaching in a rural school. I also got heavily involved in community development. Ten years later, there was a chance for a nomination, and I was encouraged by the Laikipia community to apply. I did and the deputy president also encouraged me. I got it.
What about your power struggle with the current Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel?
He believes if nominated to Parliament, I should just be seen and not heard. In fact, he has been afraid of me for nothing, I want to give him a reason to be afraid, I am now announcing, I am coming for your seat. I will campaign and I will win.
The genesis of my trouble with the current MP started when I joined Parliament. Lempurkel pulled me aside and told me never to try holding any meeting within Laikipia North. For me, that was like a slap in the face, why can’t I hold meetings, yet I was born, and had been serving the Laikipia community from when I left college? Our relationship quickly soured during a ward by-election when we both supported different candidates. He had all the money but my candidate won, so he saw me as a threat, which is okay, because he now knows I will vie for his seat.