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February 18, 2019

Once a Upon a Time in Kenya, a Woman...

Amina Mohammed
Amina Mohammed

On Tuesday evening while giving my daughter a bath, I had the TV on so I could listen to President Kenyatta’s Cabinet nominees announcement. I didn’t expect him to name four (for chrissake man) but I really didn’t expect him to name a woman as amazing as Ambassador Amina Mohammed. In that moment I forgave him everything. The long wait, the four names (four? Nkt) everything.

I first met Ambassador Amina at a friend’s house in 2011 and I have to be very honest, I barely spoke. I was in awe. She was this mix of woman, mother, girly, tough, smart, warm, kind something. I recall the only thing I had really ever read about her was an article in the dailies that said “from tiny girl to Unep Big Boss” – enough said.

After Ambassador Amina came Raychelle Omamo to the Ministry of Defence, Anne Waiguru to the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Charity Ngilu to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Phyllis Kandie to the Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism and Judi Wakhungu to the Ministry of Environment, Water and National Resources. Forgive me if I didn’t pay too much attention to the other names on the list.

Those women captured my imagination in many ways. Away from the small minds that must see everything through tribe, I chose in that moment to see the nominees primarily through their track records. Whether these women get confirmed or not is not the issue here for me. The issue is they have set and raised the bar for all of us.

So here begins the chapter, where we re-write the stories our daughters will read, love and relate to. Once upon a time in a land called Kenya, a woman was nominated to the Cabinet position of Ministry of Defence. When she was a little girl growing up in …..

In a world where the best a girl can do is dream of a Cinderella fairytale. When she gets too old for that, she gets to wonder whether the new story on E! of a girl with big tits and a big bottom and a sex tape who marries a man for less than three months and ends up pregnant with a rapper’s baby can be her story. These six women are poised to re-write the stories our daughters can live by. Women with PhDs and jobs and families were a myth. However in the past week, we have been challenged to ditch the fairytales of old and write a few new ones.

Lynda Nyangweso had a few exciting titles of her own a couple of weeks back. Cinderella goes to University. Snow White and the Supreme Court. The Princess and The PhD. Sleeping Beauty wakes the hell up and gets a job.

While there is no universally accepted definition of a fairy tale, generally they are stories of enchantment and entertainment. A fairy tale is typically a story about something that would not usually happen in real life, such as animals that can talk to humans and the stories of these women are such. Today there are more than 700 versions of Cinderella so Miss Nyangweso isn’t too crazy when she dares us to write new stories.

I dare say the resumes of these women nominated to the Cabinet can provide the background for the tales that will inspire my daughter and hopefully (from my lips to God’s ears) many others in years to come.

I am also fully aware that even as some celebrate the bar being raised and Uhuru Kenyatta reading deliberately from their CVs and including not just their academic and professional accolades but also their family status, he also made some us of squeamish. It was okay when we could poo poo the appointment of a woman because she was just a woman. Uhuru appointed qualified women. That’s cause for many to squirm, because now the excuses are over. Can you go to school? Yes. And work? Yes. And be top in your game? Yes. And be a mother and wife? Yes. It takes commitment, sacrifice and focus, but then again what doesn’t? While it was once okay not to reach for the sky because of “family commitments and pressure” these women have done it and guess what, if you cut them they will bleed. They are mortal.

So, yes, some of us will feel the pressure and even a tinge of envy and bile and will attempt to throw these women under the bus for daring to be such damned over-achievers. The rest of us with functioning brain cells will buckle up and set our sights a lot higher.

Here’s the truth. I’m not saying sexism is over, but that shouldn’t stop you from working hard at your dreams. These women can’t change all the rules but they sure do eliminate the excuses... if they can get this far. So, let’s start writing the new stories that our daughters will read. It starts like this – Once upon a time you were a little girl who believed in herself and her dreams, and that little girl knew she could do anything and that her dreams could come true…

You take it from there.

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