Let Women Lead: Heroes in the Public Arena
With high-stakes election seasons in four of WomenStrong’s five countries, girls from all over the world share their thoughts about women leaders and women’s leadership in general. This week girls from WomenStrong’s Empowerment Club in Kenya and African Leadership Academy girls from Kenya and Nigeria share about inspiring women leaders in the public arena.
Immaculate Peggy Akoth, Kenya
Peggy is a 16-year-old student in class 8 at Magadi Primary School living in Kisumu, Kenya.
Professor Wangari Maathai was a lady who stood up to fight for the environment. It had reached a point that global warming was affecting the country. Only one lady, Professor Wangari Maathai, stood up and decided to fight. When she stood up at the Jambo News House, there was no male leader who supported her. With or without the support, she never gave up.
In the year 1977, she joined the Green Belt Movement so as to try and gather people to support her activism. In Kenya, after she discovered that the government was planning to build 62 warehouses near the Karua Forest, she declared that the land needed to be set aside for tree conservation.
By then, Kenya’s president was Mwai Kibaki, who even abused her and later imprisoned her, thinking she would stop with the fight for the environment. She never gave up even after being released. Professor Maathai won many trophies outside her country, even with the government not supporting her. She made sure that she fought until her last day.
If it was me who was fighting for the environment, I would have not given up, just the way she did not. Being a courageous lady takes time. Women being in leadership would change the world. Great development of the country and the growth of its own people depends on fair justice and a fair trial.
Maureen Kosen, Kenya
Maureen is currently studying family law at university in Kenya. She is 19.
In my country, we have many strong women leaders. Most of them have chosen to rise above the stereotypes that people have about women. Still, you may find some tribes or cultures that believe that there are some occupations that women cannot do. For example, engineering is said to be for the male because it requires a lot of work. I personally believe one can thrive in any area or occupation as long as you have the passion, drive and put in hard work. A few years ago, you would never see any woman standing for posts in the government, but now that women’s rights are recognized, gender equality has risen to the point where, even in Parliament, there is gender sensitivity. Kenya has even created a post for a woman representative from every county who will automatically become part of the National Assembly.
I personally have a role model, Njoki Ndungu, a female justice on the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in Kenya. I believe for her to get to where she is today, she went through a lot of ridicule, with many believing that she could not be a woman and make it to serve on the highest court. She rose above all that, and now no one can stand and say she is not able. I am studying law now, with a dream to one day stand above all chauvinism, just like many women in Kenya have, knowing that the male gender is in no way superior to us. What they can do, we can do.
Leah Chedeya, Kenya
The woman whom I admire most is Julie Gishuri, who is a newscaster by profession. Julie Gishuri lives in Nairobi. Julie always likes empowering people by asking them to tell them how the world is going.
What I like about Julie is that she wanted to find out how Kenya’s involvement in the second World War started and ended. She always wants the country to be at peace. This woman does not like people fighting, and she always wants to find out more about the world or the country of Kenya. Many times, she invited ordinary citizens to the studio to hear what they have to say. Julie Gishuri was there when there was Saba Saba (a day of opposition protests in 1990 that became violent and triggered a brutal crackdown), and she used to advise people not to fight. She was encouraging people to stop what they were doing because war and the shedding of blood wouldn’t help solve the problem.
If I was Julie Gishuri, I could always make sure that the country is at peace. If anything happens, I would be the first one to tell Kenyans about it before it goes too far. As women, we should always be strong enough to serve our country, Kenya.
Robomi Ayo-Yusuf, Nigeria
Robomi and her family moved a year ago to Birmingham, England, so that she could further her education. She is 16. Her grandfather has three wives, and her father’s youngest sibling is six years old.
Finding a strong female leader in my country is a difficult task, although it’s not impossible. It is difficult because women aren’t given many leadership roles in my country.
The late Funmilayo Ransome Kuti fought to create her leadership position. It is one that she used to make a difference for others. She wasn’t just the first female to drive in Nigeria, but she created and headed unions, organisations and movements, where she used to stand up for what she believed. Funmilayo believed strongly in women being treated as equal members of society, and she was very opposed to paying taxes imposed on women until these injustices were corrected. Her protests led to the abdication of the king imposing taxes on women. There are many more female leaders like Funmilayo who, because society won’t make them official leaders, are forced to create their own leadership roles. The mentality of many Nigerians is that women can’t be leaders — they can’t be above men, because it is just not right. The man gives the orders, and the woman is meant to follow. If a woman by any chance finds herself in a leadership role, it is never without criticism. Everything she does, things that a male leader would have gotten away with, she is criticised for. She is a leader guiding people, yet people don’t see that: all they see is how short her skirt is or how low her shirt is. She is seen as a vessel of emotions that could explode at any given point in time. She is still referred to as “the wife of her husband,” instead of as her own person. If she isn’t married, she is told that she is “chasing” the men away with her leadership role. At every low point of her leadership, she is met with the saying, “a man would have done it better.”
But, as the late Funmilayo said, “For a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband.” Women in Nigeria have taken to Funmilayo’s words and have started taking leadership roles, reversing the order of things. Women have started contesting for main leadership roles (governors, local chairperson, etc.) in the country. They haven’t quite gotten the roles yet, but they have started to try and to make themselves known.
Caren Onyango, Kenya
The strong female leader I know in our country is the late Wangari Maathai. She protected the trees and had this great love for them. She supported the planting of trees in our country. I like the fact Wangari Maathai had compassion for trees.
If Wangari Maathai had not had this great love for trees, I am very sure we would have been living in a desert, because we would have lacked trees and forests. To me, Wangari Maathai is my strongest role model, because she has ensured clean air for the country. The farmers are also benefitting from Wangari Maathai’s work.
If Wangari Maathai was an elected female leader in our country, she would have established strong penalties for those cruel people who want to destroy our environment by cutting down trees and not replacing them. Also, if Wangari Maathai was a strong elected leader, Kenya would not be this Kenya, because we would have many homes for the wild animals, and there would have been water for cultivation because of the trees she planted, which attract rainfall.
Wangari Maathai is my role model because of her love for trees, which has helped me understand their importance.
We can change the fact that some communities give boys more priority than girls. Many girls in some communities are illiterate. We can take more girls to school and educate them on the importance of trees, so that they will walk in the footsteps of the late Wangari Maathai, tree lover, a woman ready to die for the sake of the tree.