Phoebe Asiyo is one of the most influential and respected women in the country today.
Born in South Nyanza in 1932, ‘Mama’ Asiyo, as she is fondly referred to, looks up to the [email protected] celebrations with great anticipation and says there is every reason for women to celebrate.
“It has been a very long and painful journey for women, but 50 years on after independence, we now see light at the end of the tunnel,” says Asiyo, who is currently the chairperson at the Caucus for Women’s Leadership.
Asiyo, a former Karachuonyo MP has her place as the country celebrates the golden jubilee.
“I must say women have done exceptionally well and there is every reason to celebrate. The men must also celebrate the women for the role they have played for the last 50 years in negotiating for peace and keeping the country together,” she says.
During her tenure as MP between 1979 and 1997, Asiyo focused on poverty eradication while remaining a vocal and devoted supporter for the extension of rights for full political participation to women. She has enjoyed a colourful political career and is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in the country, and even as age catches up with her, she is not about to withdraw from her cause.
“More and more women are now getting into leadership. When you look at some of the women heading or even those who have headed some of the ministries we have, their work has been commendable, and this will make future governments want to appoint women. I am proud of what we have done,” she says.
But Asiyo believes the journey is still far from over. She says harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) continue to shove women to the back seat.
“Women need to note that the affirmative action is just a stepping stone and they should take advantage of the space now,” she opines.
“As we celebrate 50 years of independence, women must remember where they have come from and chart a new chapter, the chances are too precious to be wasted.”
For Nominated Senator Zipporah Kittony, Kenya couldn’t be where it is without women. She alludes to the fact that a lot has been achieved ever since women came together back in 1975, and put in place resolutions not to discriminate against one another.
“Women have great roles to play both in nurturing homes and building the nation. We have a lot to celebrate in terms of leadership and development. Maendeleo Ya Wanawake is a clear evidence that when you have an organised and united group, a lot can be done,” says Kittony.
She says what women have achieved cannot be taken for granted. “I feel a lot of joy whenever I look back and see the far we have come. The number of women in Parliament is a clear indication that Kenya has matured politically, we need to pat ourselves on the back for the strides made even though we are not there yet,” she says.
PROF JULIA OJIAMBO
“The struggle is interesting and much as it’s fraught with challenges, some that have proved insurmountable, in overall terms, it has been satisfying. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. It has been worth it,” Prof Ojiambo summarises her view on women’s journey after independence.
Ojiambo says she can never get the right words to describe what has been achieved.
“We have done a lot. Before independence, we were there in numbers but lacked the voice. Nobody would allow us to go in front of a chief’s baraza and talk. But through education and the Constitution, this all changed and we have greatly been empowered,” she says.
Ojiambo, a former MP for Funyula and a scholar, became the first woman to be appointed as an assistant minister in Kenya.
“The level of conceptualisation of issues among women is still low. Many of us are still controlled by men. The men still have got that economic weapon over women. The number of women in Parliament is still a drop in the ocean. Women need to come out in large numbers to represent their people,” she says.
Ojiambo says women need to work harder for men to change perceptions about them.
“For the last 50 years, women have been consistent and persistent and that is why we have reached where we are now. Even as we celebrate, I want to wish all Kenyan women another 50 years of greater advancement,” says Ojiambo. ROSE TATA-MUYA
Rose Tata-Muya is a legendary retired athlete who has held the Kenyan National record for the 400 metre hurdles for nearly 20 years. She has also served as a coach for the national team.
Following an illustrious international career, starting as a 14-year-old at the Commonwealth Games at Christchurch in 1974, and spanning three Olympic games, three world championships, and four Commonwealth games, Rose took up a coaching role with the Kenyan national team.
And today as we celebrate 50 years of independence, the 55 year-old says she is proud of how far the country has come in sports.
“I feel great and I am a proud patriotic Kenyan because of the great achievements we have had in sports. Sports has brought us together and earned us great recognition globally,” says Rose. “Our flag is always flying high when it comes to sports.”
She appreciates what both the current and former governments have done to see to it that sports in the country is alleviated and given the recognition it deserves to enable more Kenyans take part in sport activities. However, Rose says a lot needs to be done for Kenya to reap fully from its sporting prowess. “The government needs to come up with policies that will work for the benefit of sports men and women. We want sports to be taken seriously, to be respected and the retired sports men and women to be honoured for the upcoming ones to be inspired,” she adds.
Jane Kiano was one of Kenya’s most renowned women leaders and currently serves as the patron of Maendelo Ya Wanawake. For more than a decade, she was head of the organisation, which is the country’s largest grassroots women’s organisation.
Under her leadership, Maendeleo grew to become a staunch defender of women’s rights and a major player not only in humanitarian causes, especially destitute and disadvantaged women, but also in the nation’s general political and economic development.
Kiano says that it feels great that the country has had 50 years of peace and prosperity.
“I must say that though the journey has been tough, there is a lot to be proud of. In the early 1960s, we didn’t have educated women and schools for girls. But 50 years down the line, that has all changed and there is remarkable progress,” says Kiano.
However, Kiano is disappointed that Kenyan women are yet to take leadership positions as they should. “We don’t support each other at times, and this has continued to give men more mileage,” she regrets.
PROF MARIA NZOMO
She is the first Kenyan woman PhD holder in Political Science and her name is synonymous with the battles for equality and equity.
She is currently a professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi. She has also served as Kenya’s ambassador in various countries.
Prof Nzomo says the [email protected] celebrations are in order and act as a time of reflection on where the country has come from, what has been achieved, and what is yet to be achieved.
“Gender issues are close to my heart. I spent more than a decade consistently providing leadership in women’s movements. The struggle agitating for women’s rights, especially during former President Moi’s regime, was a very tough time as we faced a lot of resistance,” says Nzomo.
Nzomo says for women, it has been a very slow and torturous journey “whereby you make one gain today and the next day you have to go back to the drawing board.”
“In the 1960s, there was no woman in government. In the early 1990s, there were very few women who held various positions in government. Even now, as a country, we are crawling behind the region in matters women’s rights,” she says. “Progress has been extremely slow and though we have made some steps forward, a lot of work still needs to be done,” she says.
“Back in our days, we had nothing. The Constitution then was anti-women. As someone who has been part of the 20-year struggle for a new dispensation, I must say the current Constitution is a great milestone as it is not only gender friendly, but also good for all Kenyans.”
And as we look at the generation that is coming even in the next 50 years, my hope is that the society would have evolved and the norms and values that undermine equality will have been phased off,” says Nzomo.