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December 17, 2018

The New Hard Hats in Town

Tourism Assistant Minister Cecily Mbarire during a press conference at Parliament buildings yesterday.
Tourism Assistant Minister Cecily Mbarire during a press conference at Parliament buildings yesterday.

The Huffington Post has been running a series of conversations about women in non-traditional employment and roles. It’s called NEW. One of these roles is women in construction.

Oh bless, I said to myself, who is going to tell Arianna Huffington that in Africa women have been in construction for decades. Maasai women actually build their homes and in Ethiopia, women have been in mainstream construction for years. NEW (Non-traditional Employment for Women) is great for an American woman, but we have a thing or two we could show them about NEW in Kenya.

In fact, someone tell Huffington Post that in Kenya we have gone a step further – it is legislated that women will get a piece of the construction pie.

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure and honour to be at the first ever Women in Construction gathering hosted by the National Construction Authority.

I learnt a lot. I learnt that women are done with talk about economic empowerment. They want real money, they want real empowerment and they want big money and they are not afraid to say it. Finally! What took us so long?

I learnt that even the female politicians understood that only by having access to money can they realise their political ambitions. It’s crazy to think for two seconds that the numbers of women in the political sphere can increase unless women are able to match their male counterparts shilling for shilling, poster for poster and car for car. The only way to do so is with money and for that you need big money and big money is in construction.

I learnt that the women in that room had no illusions that it would take work and determination and it was an uphill battle, but they also were clear: the days of making pots, weaving kiondos, raising goats as a women’s group were long gone. They wanted real economic empowerment and they were going to get it.

The absolute fire starter of the evening was Runyenjes MP Cecily Mbarire. I had never encountered her up close and I was blown away. She was clear about certain things.

You must aim for more, demand more and be serious about having real cash in your pocket and in your bank account. She challenged the women in that room and every woman to understand that lining up at government offices asking for handouts was lame.

She says women need to learn to do as their male counterparts do and learn to ask for business. You will have to be tough and to quote Mbarire, you will have to act crazy.

That she called out and spoke of women who were crazy and even mentioned me is just fine. If crazy means you stand your ground, demand to be heard, make a point and let the chips fall where they may – then crazy is just fine by me.

But my celebration and revved up spirit was soiled when on Sunday morning I woke up to see a good woman, a great woman, a friend being racked over the coals because she is daring to get on with the job. Allow me to go on the record as saying this:

Gladys Boss Shollei is no ordinary girl. During her stint at the Judiciary she has truly rocked the boat and left a few people feeling a little uncomfortable and even anxious. Gladys is that kind of girl. When she took the oath of office she meant business.

I said this last week and I will say it again - status quo is at war. This nonsense facing Gladys Boss Shollei is about loss (not hers, but that of those who can’t seem to eat anymore).

It’s also about sexism of the highest order – that a woman can wield so much power and authority and worse still, that she can’t seem to bow to the will of those who feel she must be at their beck and call. You can sum up the entire circus in one simple statement: "Who does that woman think she is?” She’s the boss – Gladys Boss Shollei – deal with it.

I’m going out on a limb here because I must. I cannot stomach people who support you privately when you are being butchered publicly. Gladys, I refuse to whisper my support for you or speak my outrage behind closed doors.

Status quo is at war and what people resist is not change per se, but loss. Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they've lost control over their territory.

The territorial gang of those who can’t stomach different and worse still, different by a woman who doesn’t seem to care for bootlicking has got some people really pissed off. It was to be expected. It cannot be allowed to carry the day.

It cannot happen and should not be allowed to happen. This madness is a warning shot to all other agents of change across government and government bodies – don’t be too robust in your change agenda.

It’s not welcome here. For every woman who has got the constitutional power and authority to transform this country from Sarah Serem to Shollei, I can’t watch you fall.

I have a selfish motive for ensuring the old guard doesn’t run you out of town. If you don’t make it, then there is no hope for me, my younger sisters or even my daughter – so you must prevail and those of us who truthfully want change and change for the better must selfishly and wholeheartedly stand by you.

Their mission is simple: Stop her in her tracks and ensure that if a new Chief Registrar is appointed, then he or she stands forewarned and will tow the line.

I get it. Madam Shollei, like Serem, will not make people feel all warm and cuddly and because that is new, strange, weird, and crazy, there is a need to break her before she goes too far.

Yes, these women will rub you the wrong way sometimes, but they didn’t get up in the morning to go to work to play nice; they have work to do, deal with it. My biggest fear is the domino effect of letting status quo have its day.

I dare say once Gladys is out of the way, the next target will be the Chief Justice and the rest of us had better get ready to go back to the days of paying for justice and bribing and groveling our way through the judicial system. Hell-to-the-no.

Women like Shollei and Serem will face the worst assault, because they just don’t play ball and you can’t use the usual tired line “she must be sleeping with someone” to bring her down.

However, given the vacuous nature of the society we operate in, all one has to do is plant doubt in people’s minds and the rest is done. Not on my watch and not when the assault is on a smart, forthright, hardworking woman.

Jitafutieni shughuli. It’s a new day and the sooner status quo got with the programme the better. Now let me go get my hard-hat and hammer some signs at construction sites that say “women at work”. Men at work is so last decade.

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