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They soared, broke barriers in a defining year for women, equality and global power

By Nancy Nzau | Dec 27th 2021 | 3 min read
Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. [Reuters, Stringer]

It was a busy year. Many will agree that time didn’t feel like a flat circle for once. It was a roller-coaster, trying to adjust to life after Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed. Despite being the second year of the global pandemic, 2021 was a year of many firsts for women in Kenya and globally. The year marked many historical milestones, from the appointment of the first-ever female Chief Justice in Kenya to the swearing-in of America’s first woman vice president, Kamala Harris.  

Take a minute or two and scroll through this list of the most challenging and memorable moments from the past year. 

Appointment of first female Chief Justice in Kenya

Justice Martha Koome overcame odds to become the first woman to hold the position of Chief Justice. The 61-year-old was appointed in May by President Uhuru Kenyatta. She beat 10 candidates to the position after a rigorous recruitment process that included live television interviews by the Judicial Service Commission. It was a historical moment as Kenyans witnessed the first female Deputy Chief Justice, Philomena Mwilu, handing over the instruments of power to Koome.

Chief Justice Martha Koome [Courtesy]

Samburu elders sign pact denouncing FGM

Samburu County religious leaders and cultural elders declared an end to FGM in March. The event, dubbed Kisima Declaration, was held near a water point, considered to have a religious and cultural significance. The event was spearheaded by Amref and graced by President Uhuru Kenyatta who commended the elders for signing declaration forms. This commitment is expected to make great strides towards the fight against FGM. 

First woman to lead World Trade Organisation

2021 saw the appointment of the first African and the first woman to lead the World Trade Organisation. In March, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala broke a record by becoming the first African woman to serve as the World Trade Organization’s director-general. 

First Filipino woman Nobel Peace Prize winner wins a dangerous battle 

October 8 was a big day for journalism and women, Maria Ressa was co-awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her bold expose and reporting in the Philippines on President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings and alleged strongman tactics in the war on drugs. That a female journalist would make it her business to challenge a president’s complacency and cover-up on the fight against drugs was a moment of victory for patriots, women, and journalists worldwide.

Woman spearheads historical mission to successfully land NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars

In February this year, the world was united in bated breath as NASA’s most advanced interplanetary spacecraft, the Perseverance rover, made its final descent on Mars. At the forefront of the mission was Dr Swati Mohan, the head of guidance, navigation, and control operations at the Nasa Jet Propulsion Lab.

Kenyan woman breaks a 925-year-old Oxford University record

A Kenyan woman broke a 925-year-old record as the youngest person to receive a full professor tenure in Oxford or Cambridge University. Prof Patricia King’ori, a sociologist in her early 40’s, was recognised for her academic research’s quality and global impact. Coincidentally, Patricia’s sister, Vanessa Kingori, also broke the first female publisher record in British Vogue’s 102-year history.

Kamala Harris

A trailblazer, Kamala Harris not only broke a record to become the first female and black Vice President, but the 56-year-old is also the first Black woman to hold the office of the district attorney of San Francisco. She was also the first Black woman to hold the post of attorney general of California.

Samia Suluhu

Samia Suluhu was sworn in as the only female president on the continent. The 61-year-old was sworn in March this year after the passing on of her predecessor, the late President John Magufuli.  

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