I hardly talk about this. It is one of those chapters in one’s life that one chooses to let go.
Many years ago, just after completing my university studies, and as I was trying to sort out what I figured was a great future, I grabbed an opportunity that was glaring at me as I waited to make the great leap. I became an untrained graduate secondary school teacher, albeit temporary.
All along, I knew what I wanted to become and the teaching job, and any other that could have come, would just be a means to that end. I wanted to be a “national leader”.
And my opportunity came just a few months later, to which I quickly rushed to grasp. Kanu Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation’s grassroots elections were announced. The voters, and contestants, were, of course, to be women. I was excited and quickly selected the position I would run for. I was sure I was qualified and so I got fired up, so to speak.
I mobilised my female colleagues at the school and the head teacher was kind enough to allow them time off to go and vote for me.
I also spoke to one of my seemingly popular relative who lived in the town. She agreed to mobilise support for me and, on voting day, she came with many supporters.
At the grounds where voting was to take place, I saw the area MP and the mayor, who were accompanied by other men, who I was to learn later were councillors, make a ‘grand’ entry to cheers from the crowd of would-be voters. I wondered what business the men had at a women’s elections.
The small group of waheshimiwa then settled at a platform, where they held consultative meetings with the various groups of women and candidates. I did not go there because I figured that I did not have to — and we did not know one another anyway.
However, my influential relative led my assumed supporters to a meeting with the MP. After that, I noticed that my “supporters”, including my relative, had suddenly become hostile towards me. When it was time to queue for the vote, I realised that my voting bloc had reduced to the small group of teachers. My relative and her group queued behind my rivals and were loudly deriding me. Amid jeers, I gave up and we trekked back to school.
I was to later learn that the little meetings convened by the MP had turned things around. The MP took issue with the fact that I had not gone to pledge my loyalty to him and the other politicians, which would have cleared the air on who I was and that I had not been planted by his rivals.
That is how my ambitions for holding an elective national office petered.
Much later, after I had taken my leadership ambitions into journalism and on to the parliamentary reporting beat for the Daily Nation, I got to meet the MP. He “confessed” that he was sorry to learn that I was “harmless” but was quick to remind me that I needed to have talked to “wazee” before making such a decision “for their vetting and support”.
This is one reason I have much respect for women who break new ground into leadership. The barriers and roadblocks along the way are many.
And last Thursday’s launch of the inaugural Women Trailblazers Award, held at State House, got me excited.
Other than celebrating the book launch by the legendary Phoebe Asiyo, I was delighted to see two of my university lecturers — Prof Wanjiku Kabira and Dr Edah Gachukia — being feted for the great feats.
But it was particularly uplifting to witness Joan Mjomba, the first mayor of Voi, being honoured by President Uhuru Kenyatta. One cannot also overstate the role Dr Jennifer Riria plays in empowering womenfolk.
The President deserves praise for his personal initiative towards realising gender equity. The Head of State has, for the first time, put in place a woman-led ministry.
The Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs is headed by Prof Margaret Kobia. Her Chief Administrative Secretary is Rachel Shebesh and the Principal Secretary (Gender) Safina Kwekwe Tsungu.
The trailblazers award, an initiative of the ministry, is just one example of what women can do when accorded leadership roles. What is great, again, is that the President directed that the award be held annually.
It is acts such as those by the President and these women of steel that will protect the ambitions and future of girls seeking to lead, a protection that I needed those many years ago but did not get.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene