Grace Onyango proved that women capable of national leadership

First woman MP Grace Onyango during an interview with The Standard at her residence in Kisumu on July 2, 2018. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

It is hard to sum up Grace Onyango's life. She was the first female mayor of Kisumu in 1967 and, later, the first female MP in 1969. She also served as the first woman secretary of the Luo Union and the first woman councillor of Kaloleni ward in Kisumu.

Dr Onyango, or "Nyar Bungu", as her many admirers call her, is a giant, fearless trailblazer and beacon of hope for Kenyan women still under-represented in politics.

Her fight for women's rights blazed a path to the future desired for girls and women to live out their aspirations without limits.

A teacher by profession, Dr Onyango entered politics in the 1960s, when the patriarchal attitudes of key political leaders and the one-party system made it difficult for women to be elected to parliament.

Women representatives increased primarily due to the 2010 constitution that implemented affirmative action for women.

From Dr Onyango, we can learn resilience. Like most women of her generation, she experienced gender discrimination in the political space, but no gender attacks nor adversity stopped her.

She broke the African cultural taboos that confined women to the kitchen by elbowing her way into national politics when it was unthinkable for women to stand before men, let alone lead them.

Undoubtedly, Grace stands out as a beacon of success from which girls and women can learn, an example to follow, and a reason for Kenya to achieve complete gender equality.

Although the Constitution enshrines the principle of gender equality in all spheres of life, the country still has conspicuous inequalities.

While affirmative action is essential, it must be seen as means, not an end. Dr Onyango once said that although the one-third gender rule is necessary, women should keep fighting for their space by taking up elective positions.

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