by Philo Ikonya
- Kenya -
The women of Kenya have always been aware of injustice in our society, all through the years. And they have fought for justice: in 1922 Mary Nyanjiru faced the colonialist’s gun fearlessly after stating that if the men would not fight, they could give her their trousers and she would don them and do the fighting. She died for her rights, as Mekatilili Wa Menza did before her, who fought just as courageously for her people. Analysts say that what Kenya has experienced in 2008 has its roots in colonial times. Well, the stifling of women’s voices is no exception.
• We, the women of Kenya, know that what surprised the world and some Kenyans, was something we’ve always known – that the deep inequalities in our country would lead to the destruction of this nation.
Without a voice in policy, women in Kenya have few opportunities to better their lives or those of their children. Photograph by Angela Slevin. •
Many women, though recognizing the charm of the slogan, have never been convinced that the hakuna matata (no problems) mentality worked in the real lives of people. What a shame that we neglected women’s voices, the most resourceful and prophetic we have. I was at Limuru for a conference on poverty in 2005, when a woman from a pastoral community presented the Vice President with the mini household items she was able to purchase with less than a dollar. A tiny bit of salt, a little bar of soap (to wash her husband’s clothes), a tiny bit of fat and sugar - all acquired in what we call the kadogo (mini) economy. Of course, even in the mini economy, none of it was for her.
If anybody knows what poverty is - the kind of poverty that for many girls means missing school because they have their period and not having a pad to wear, try banana fibers instead - it is the women. If anyone knows what it means to have little children who need to be bathed but who must “rush-rush” to the well to fetch water to make tea for a visitor - again it is the women. Women alone know how to let a baby suckle their drying breasts during a famine - those awful times when in parts of Kenya everything withers and even the camels (the animals most resilient to drought) die in the relentless scorching sun.