How I will tame wave of femicides — Jumwa

Gender CS is advocating vigilance, law changes and personal responsibility

In Summary

• Aisha Jumwa is in charge of Gender docket at a time of teen pregnancies, femicides

• She addressed these and cultural affairs under her watch, and shared her life story

Gender CS Aisha Jumwa during a Cabinet meeting at State House
Gender CS Aisha Jumwa during a Cabinet meeting at State House
Image: PCS

Gender, Culture, Arts and Heritage CS Aisha Jumwa is at the helm of a ministry in which key developments have been happening.

She had an exclusive interview with the Star, in which she addressed the conversion of Bomas of Kenya into a convention centre, teenage pregnancies, femicides and her battles in life from humble beginnings.

What informed the decision to turn Bomas of Kenya into an international convention centre?

This flagship project is an integral part of the national tourism strategy under the Kenya Kwanza manifesto in line with the government’s efforts to tap into the increasing global demand for highly lucrative meeting, incentives and conference exhibitions (MICE). Bomas of Kenya being strategically located within the city of Nairobi offers the best site for the development.

What facilities will feature in “the new Bomas”?

The government is still exploring the best model that will serve as a hub for international gatherings with its versatile spaces that shall offer a unique platform for knowledge exchange, networking and entertainment. This shall include the conference centre, presidential pavilion and hotels as communicated by the Cabinet on August 8 last year.

Are there solid steps being made to actualise the plan? 

The government is developing the Bomas International Convention Complex implementation plan and anticipates executing the project in phases.

What is the projected budgetary cost for the planned project?

The government is exploring the best funding models given the dynamics of the financial situation. This shall include government funding and funding through the public-private partnership (PPP) framework.

Are there plans to have Uhuru Gardens management placed under the Museums of Kenya?

Management of the Uhuru Gardens National Monument and Museum is currently under the Ministry of Defence. However, considering the mandates of the two major ministries involved with the property, their capacities in terms of technical, human resources and financial, there are three suggestions on the table on the management.

First, the National Museums of Kenya to take the lead on provision of technical skills and expertise in the management of the property, including taking care of the exhibitions, interpretations, collection of artefacts and their safekeeping and custody, research, archival and education, among others. While the administration of the property, including its care, maintenance, financing and funding, is left with the Ministry of Defence.

Second, a multi-stakeholders Board of Management (BOM) or a committee involving ministries, departments and agencies be established to provide management of the property.

Third, a PPP kind of arrangement can be considered, where private actors will be brought in and a Memorandum of Understanding developed together with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Gender, Culture, Arts and Heritage to cater for the management of the property.

You recently rebuked Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka for suggesting that pregnant girls should be barred from continuing with education. In your view, how should teenage pregnancies be tamed?

First of all, teenage girls are victims, not perpetrators of teenage pregnancies, and, therefore, should not be condemned and victimised. The back-to-school campaign by the government for teen mothers is a reflection of this understanding. Empathising with teen mothers is paramount as none of them feel proud of teen motherhood.

Secondly, it is important for parents to take their rightful role of guiding teenage girls in regard to the biological changes and urges that they face. Teenage years are a transition from childhood to early adulthood. It is the primary responsibility of parents to prepare them to manage that transition and guide them to transit safely.

Thirdly, many girls fall prey to sexual relations as a mitigation to deficits they face in basic needs, including personal hygiene products like sanitary towels, pocket money and clothing, among others. It is again the responsibility of parents to provide for their children.

However, the government has come in handy to provide for the most vulnerable children through the sanitary towels programme for girls in primary and secondary schools; numerous safety net and social protection programmes like the OVC cash transfers; free primary education, among others.

During your vetting in Parliament, you almost broke down narrating how you were married off at a tender age. How did this affect you?

The harsh, brutal and difficult life experience that I have lived in essence became the motivation for my rebirth. I purposed to make my life experience a classroom full of lessons. I chose not to be bitter but be better.

First, I convinced myself that my children would not live the same life of hardship that I did. From this, I saw the need to be a parent who has the means to provide for my children and not have my children be a means to provide for me.

Secondly, I knew that the realities of the harsh life were affecting not me alone but many of us in my circumstances. It, therefore, gave me the impetus to go back to school and improve myself so I could seek leadership and be an informed leader at that. Having worn the shoes of abject poverty, forced early marriage and early pregnancy, I knew I could tailor appropriate interventions to counter these vices.

I dropped out of school because of lack of school fees and ended up getting married at a very young age. I did not allow that to define me and I purposed to be better and fought my way up
Aisha Jumwa

Your story can inspire many girls. Please narrate to us how you grew up and the challenges you faced. 

I was born and raised in a village known as Takaungu in Kilifi North constituency, Kilifi county. I am a mother of three young adults whose journey to the top has had may roadblocks.

I come from a very humble background and those of you who have been to Kilifi will understand what poor background means from that part of the country. My parents were extremely poor and they struggled to raise my 27 siblings and I. Raising us put a big strain on both my parents and we struggled to get the basics in life.

Luckily for me and my siblings, there was a local public primary school in the village known as Takaungu Primary School, and that is where we all went to school. It was technically free and that is why I managed to finish my primary school education.

I then proceeded to Ganze Secondary School, but like many girls from the rural areas in the country from poor backgrounds, I had to drop out and that broke my heart. I saw my dreams literally fade as the prospects of growth, success and prosperity were crippled by economic hurdles. My parents had to choose between keeping me in school and feeding my siblings and I.

Those of you who have grown up in the village know what life is like when you drop out of school with nothing much to do. Most young girls end up in early marriages, a big percentage of it being forced marriage, sometimes with the blessings of parents.

Mine was no different. I ended up in an early marriage situation and ended up having my first child at a very young age. Technically I was still a child.

My resolve to fight child marriage stems from the experience I had back them. I speak from experience and I recall the trauma and the struggle I went though, and that is why as the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Culture, Arts and Heritage, I will do everything in my power to protect young girls from rural areas from this vice. It destroys the dreams of young girls and scars them for life.

They say when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade out of it. I was not content with being a housewife. Being a housewife meant I spent a lot of time with the villagers, and I started to see the gaps in leadership.

I understood their needs and wanted a better life for them, and so I took a keen interest in community affairs, especially issues that revolved around women, youth and people living with disabilities. I wanted to transform their lives through policymaking that would ensure a better life for them.

What policy interventions have you instituted as CS largely informed by your experience growing up from a poor family?

Making the sanitary towels programme work for that disadvantaged girl, and ensuring that no girl is shamed because she is a victim of early pregnancy, early marriage or any form of GBV, are close to my heart.

It is for this reason that I have invested in operationalising safe houses and rescue centres, revitalised the gender desks at police stations and, together with the Ministry of Health, dedicated ourselves to ensuring proper diagnosis and preservation of evidence by health facilities, especially for GBV cases.

I also have taken a keen interest in bringing men into the gender discourse and introduced male inclusion and engagement as a primary theme through establishing a gender sector working group purposely for that: to actively bring boys and men into the gender discourse as key stakeholders, not as spectators.

Many people easily despair after scoring low grades in school. What would you want to tell such people from your own story?

I dropped out of school because of lack of school fees and ended up getting married at a very young age. I did not allow that to define me and I purposed to be better and fought my way up.

There is always a chance to be better, but you have to be willing to give it a try and fight. Scoring low grades should not define you, and it does not mean that you are a failure in life. In most cases, it is life telling you that you can do better and that you have the option of trying again.

What challenges have you faced as a political leader and now Cabinet Secretary because of your gender?

Challenges include doubt by both men and women that I can be a good leader, more so a Cabinet Secretary, given my background of poverty and gender abuses. However, I have proven these doubting Thomases wrong by using my background positively to craft working solutions to real problems facing women and girls as espoused earlier.

There is a lot of gender-related violence and killings. Other than the criminal process and the usual condemnations that follow, is there a policy issue that the government is considering to deal with the issue?

Yes, indeed, there are multi-pronged policy issues that need reinforcing.

One, we are reviewing the GBV policy and law to align with our realities. For instance, femicide enabled by technological advancement was not anticipated at the drafting of the two instruments. Today, that plus cyber GBV is a reality, and, therefore, there is a need to factor it into the policy and law.

Secondly, most femicides are of relatively young people, some pursuing higher education or just having finished higher education. It is my plan, therefore, to actively engage the student leadership of universities and colleges through their student unions to have candid conversations about taking proper safeguards, personal responsibility by students to uphold self-dignity and care, and institute buddy/guardian angel tradition amongst students.

Thirdly, together with my colleagues in Cabinet, I will advocate for greater interaction with university and college faculties on a peer-to-peer basis, but more importantly, with students under their pupillage for joint vigilance against femicides.

Public Service Commission reports have shown that women numbers in the civil service still fall way below the constitutional threshold. How are you dealing with this?

Indeed, it is true that 30 per cent of the Cabinet comprises women, and 25 per cent of Principal Secretaries are women. On elective posts, 14.9 per cent of governors are women, and the National Assembly boasts of 23 per cent women only.

The President, as head of state and government, is alive to this reality. That is why in the most recent appointments at the JSC, 37 per cent of judges were women. There is a continuous effort to purposefully populate the executive arm of government with more women to match the participation of the able men serving in the public service.

On engendering leadership at elective positions, the President directed the actualisation of the two-thirds gender principle within the current term of government. To this end, the multi-sectoral working group on the actualisation of the two-thirds gender principle is almost concluding its task.

An outcome of this will be a legislative tool outlining the procedure to achieve the gender goal and guarantee the realisation of the principle in subsequent electoral processes.

The bipartisan team has made a recommendation that the National Commission and Integration Commission, the National Gender and Equality Commission and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights be merged into one commission. What are your views on this?

The Constitution, in its wisdom, created the Kenya National Human Rights and Equality Commission. However, it also provided for the creation of subsequent commissions through legislation, and that is how the NGEC was formed, through an Act of Parliament.

I am not averse to merger of the two commissions so long as the pivotal function currently played by NGEC of engendering the country in all development processes is not lost.

If the merger process proceeds successfully, my take is that there should be a guarantee that the merged commission shall ensure gender equality is retained as a principle function and that the commission shall prescribe safeguards from discrimination and marginalisation in all spaces, be they public, private or in civil society.

What are your personal plans for the future? Do you plan to return to the Kilifi gubernatorial contest in 2027?

My plan right now is to serve the people of Kenya under the leadership of President William Ruto to ensure that we deliver the promises that the Kenya Kwanza administration gave to Kenyans through its manifesto. And looking at the progress so far, the government is doing very well.

President Ruto has complained that the courts are interfering with his plans. As a founder member of UDA, to what extent is this true?

The national government is composed of three distinct branches: The Legislature (Parliament), the Executive and the Judiciary. Each arm is independent of the other and their individual roles are set by the Constitution of Kenya, while their powers and duties are further defined by acts of Parliament. It is important that the three work together for the good of the Kenyan people.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star