In her book A woman of substance , Barbara Taylor Bradford describes A woman of substance as: a woman of power, a woman of positive influence and a woman of meaning, she goes ahead and assembles four qualities a girl/woman should posses so as to be a woman of substance : one who embraces individuality and is happy with the way she is, a woman who uses her voice, a woman who finds her dream in life and pursues it and a woman who lives up to her morals and values and always lives up to them.
The women I have featured below are marked by their gratitude for the encouragement, examples, and mentorship that they give to others and emphasize that they are determined to give back. Yes there are many women achievers in our society starting from our mothers but this are just the crème of popular women in my opinion who have made a big impact in our society.
NB: they are in no order at all.
MARTHA KARUA, every time her name is mentioned everyone sparks to the notion of a stern woman, who is rooted to her political ideologies, true sentiments but there is more to that. I was reading her interview in ‘DRUM’ and the way she was introduced amazed me ‘Her practicality is as expected as her sense of humor is surprising, more so when she digs into a Nigerian accent. And when she smiles just so, you can see a small dimple on her right cheek. “Incorporate the dimple,” she jokingly tells our photographer. Quite interesting considering that this is the same woman who has been referred to as Africa’s Iron Lady.’ Martha has been involved in championing women’s rights through public interest advocacy for laws that enhance and protect women’s rights through her work with various women’s organizations, particularly the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) and the League of Kenya Women Voters. In a game that is considered a Man’s world Martha beats all the odds of criticism and chauvinism by declaring her stand for contesting for the presidential seat in 2012. She is one who knows what she wants and her continuity to stand her ground is what inspires me. Since 1992 she has retained her seat as the MP for Gichugu. With her parliamentary seat came other positions in the Government and until April 6, 2009 she was the Minister of Justice, National Cohesion & Constitutional Affairs. She also previously served as the Minister of Water Resources Management & Development, and was behind the implementation of the Water Act 2002, which has since then accelerated the pace of water reforms and service provision in Kenya. She has had her ups and downs and whenever she feels that her intelligence is being scaled down she bows out with dignity, such as the case of resigning her position as the National Secretary for constitutional affairs in 1998 and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs on April 6, 2009, citing frustrations in discharging her duties. Martha is also the first woman lawyer to be popularly elected to Parliament. Suzanne Brogger, a Danish novelist and essayist quotes “If a woman can only succeed by emulating men, I think it is a great loss and not a success. The aim is not only for a woman to succeed, but to keep her womanhood and let her womanhood influence society.” Martha Karua is a woman of substance, and I am sure she would second Suzanne Brogger’s thoughts, because she is principled. I wish you all the best in your political career.
JULIE GICHURU is a lady most of us drool when we see her on television, yes because of her beauty. Most of us know her as one of Citizen’s best news anchor , but her name comes with other professional titles, she is the group digital manager at citizen TV, a fellow and trustee member of the African Leadership Initiative, part of the Young Global Leaders, under the World Economic Forum, and has won a Salute to Greatness Award from the Martin Luther King Foundation in 2008, she takes part in the Aspen Global Leadership Network and African Global Leadership. Julie has pioneered a couple of shows in our local media houses such as Capital Open line on Capital FM in 2001, Showdown, The Fourth Estate, On the Spot, The People’s Voice, Voices of Reason, and You the Jury all in NTV, Sunday Live in citizen TV, these are just but examples of some of the television shows. Julie gives journalism a niche that describes quality!! She has had her share of rumor mongering drama, but hey she still stands out to be THAT journalist, that woman who makes a difference in the lives of Kenyans by telling it like it is on air and never hesitating to bring out the issues that affect Kenyans, and this can be articulated by her peace initiative during the post election violence. Cher an American singer and actress quotes ‘Women have to harness their power– it’s absolutely true. It’s just learning not to take the first no. And if you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner’. Amazing, a mentor a mother and a go-getter that’s what defines Julie, in my opinion.
Whenever AGNES PAREYIO’s name is mentioned everyone’s mind switches to Female Genital Mutilation, why, because this woman uses all her energy and ability to do away with this vice and creates a safe haven for young girls who do not want to undergo the practice. FGM is not new to us Kenyans; it kills a generation that if given a second chance would do so much to build this nation. While she was serving as treasurer of ‘Maendeleo ya wanawake’ Agnes took the initiative of rescuing girls who ran away from being mutilated in 1998, but later she resigned from ‘Maendeleo ya Wanawake’ to concentrate on rescuing girls, and through this she got help from V-Day America, global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. She later opened a safe house for these girls and as she pursued with her cause Agnes was named Kenya Director for V-Day. In 2005 she was named as the person of the year by United Nations. She established the first V-Day safe house for women and girls fleeing from FGM in Narok, Kenya. They say you have to be in someone’s shoe so as know what they are going through, Agnes underwent this cruelty of FGM and rescuing this girls meant so much to her that in 1999 as she was still teaching girls in various villages she met with American award winning author Eve Ensler and also founder of V-Day who helped her set up Tasuru Ntomonok (Rescue the Women) Initiative (TNI), a community-based rescue centre for young Maasai girls. More than 2,000 girls have been saved from FGM as a result of the TNI project. FGM is an inhuman practice that leads to also the high chances of contracting HIV/AIDS, but Agnes is still working tooth and nail to do whatever she can so that she can rescue most if not all of the Maasai girls. Mary Manin Morrissey, New thought minister quotes ‘Don’t wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater,’ exactly what Agnes Pareyio is doing.
STELLA KILONZO, a name that spells Stock Market and. I am such a blonde when it comes to business matters but when Stella’s name creamed Capital Markets Authority I started gaining interest. She is the CEO of CMA and though she has declared that she will not be running for another term Stella played a vital role in keeping an eye on Kenya’s capital markets and providing a robust legal and regulatory framework for the sector a post which many doubted suited her as the ideology of many is that capital market is an ‘old boys’ network. In the East African Newspaper, Market whisperer column graces her work by stating ‘ it is under her leadership that Kenya’s critical markets have been able to institute a number of reforms’. One of Stella’s reforms is championing demutualization which refers to the separation of ownership from the trading rights of an exchange and will see the separation of ownership and management at the NSE. In the four years that Mrs. Kilonzo has been the CEO, she has managed to implement reforms that have borne fruits, and are aligned to the Vision 2030 economic blueprint. Some reforms that were implemented included setting up the Capital Markets Fraud Investigation Unit in 2009, which has been instrumental in deterring fraud, she also managed to restore investor confidence in the stock market. In a world so sensitive, Stella has done well for herself and also for the Capital Market, I believe that this is a beginning for a tremendous change. As she endeavors to venture with her other interests I wish her all the best. Diana Ross an American singer and actress quotes ‘You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream; you’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself,’ Stella gave the Capital Markets a golden dream.
GINA DIN, now here is a lady who had a vision and took the risk of quitting her job as head of corporate affairs at Barclays Bank Kenya to go start a PR firm. That’s some confidence right there. Fifteen years down the line Gina Din Corporate Communications has expanded from two employees to 70 and is growing at an annual rate of 20%. GDCC currently has over 25 clients and offices in Kenya and Uganda. There are plans to launch in Tanzania. What inspires me about Gina Din is that she takes the risk to clinch PR accounts in companies while in the world we live today, most firms and companies have internal communications teams, but she still makes it, and GDCC is known country wide and even beyond the border for providing comprehensive corporate communications strategy as well as major events organizing for many blue chip and international companies. This empire circles not only the PR sector but is also involved in humanitarian assistance with Gina Din Kariuki being the goodwill ambassador for The Kenya Red Cross. With her title as the founder of GDCC, Gina Din has spearheaded the firm to a level that has seen the company consecutively win the prestigious public relations consulting firm ward for a number of years. I was inspired by an article I read a while back on GDCC whereby the firm handled a crisis communication management of the Kenya Airways Doula crash, I mean this just shows some authority and branching from what people would term as normal PR. Her humanitarian works inspire me in that she gets out of her way to help the society in whatever way she can, Kenyans for Kenya GDCC was in the front line to do its best to save Kenyans from hunger, and she also collaborated on a song with former war child Emmanuel Jal titled “We want peace” as part of Jal’s We Want Peace (WWP) Campaign which aims at raising awareness on the fundamental principles of peace, unification and conflict prevention, through the power of music. Anna Quindlen an American author quoted ‘The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself,’ There is more to this lady, and I am sure in the future we will get to see more of her work, big up Gina Din.
WANGARI MAATHAI, where do I even start, first things, May God continue resting her soul in Peace. Wangari Maathai is a lady whose name is widely known. She was a woman of many achievements, politically, socially and economically. A Kenyan environmentalist and political activists, Wangari beat all odds of making this nation a better place. She founded the green belt movement that was geared towards environmental conservation and also women’s right and in 1986 she was awarded the Right Livelihood award. Her sustainable developments earned her the Nobel peace prize, making her the first African woman to receive the prize. She served in the government as the assistant minister for environment and natural resources. Her life may seem all glamour due to the awards she had, but Wangari underwent through a lot of negative energy especially during the Moi era, her strong will is what made her conquer and emerge as the woman of substance. Her achievements can not all be put down in writing; she was honored with international posts which governed anything that dealt with the environment. I admire her for her strong will and determination, they say that maybe other Wangari Maathai’s might emerge, but I tell you this, she was one of a kind, a mother to Kenyans, a fighter and most of all a very jovial person. Hardly can you come across her pictures with a grin written all over it. Wangari’s death was a major blow to Kenyans, but we all learnt from her, determination is what spells her. Diane Mariechild author of Wit and Inner Dance quotes ‘A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform,’ that is what Wangari Maathai did for Kenya and for the World. Rest in Peace.
TABITHA KARANJA, just imagine waking up to breaking news that some Lady somewhere has a company that will take on EABL (East African Breweries Ltd), how now? STOP IMAGINING!!! It is all a reality and Tabitha’s company is a billion shilling investment. When I first heard of Keroche I was in campus, and most of us would gold rush for Keroche’s drinks, I really did not know that I was promoting a company that would ‘horn’ up to EABL. Tabitha’s story is one that anyone would love to see premier in a Hollywood series due to its conspiracy of many purposing to see it fail. Keroche has been through plantations of people and associations whose intentions were to make the company not see the light of the day whenever the word success cropped up. All this discouragement did not weigh Tabitha’s passion down, no she fought for what she knew was her dream and today, the company rides on a capacity of 6,000 half-litre bottles per hour. In an industry that many thought was trodden by men, Tabitha has done well for herself by being a woman entrepreneur working a billion shilling company. Ogden Nash an American poet once said ‘I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm some man she was preparing to overwhelm.’ Tabitha you have created a path for many, who thought that just because some fields are men dominated women cant make it… continue with your good work, I am sure this achievement is not the last we will hear of you!!
MARY ONYANGO a fighter, a woman who was very positive that in an interview when she was asked if she had any hope for Africa her response was ‘so I repeat, I am full of hope good things are going to happen in the continent. We have beautiful people and we have a lovely and very wealthy continent which is completely untouched,’ now that is being optimistic, a value many of us lack especially in our view of this continent. She served as the vice chairperson of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and also a co-founder/ supporter of the Kenya Breast Health Programme(KBHP) which was spurred by her own experience of being diagnosed with Breast cancer back in 1999. She was involved in charity and was a member of the boards of several charity and civil society organizations. She was much interested in the cause of parading voices for those who were poor and could not afford the best health care needed and more so for diseases such as cancer. Her determination was manifested in her organization KBHP where many women could go for psychosocial support among other things. She rose to a top United Nations position due to the empowerment she advocated of women. The standard newspaper view on her cause: ‘her service with the institution has been an example for many others looking to increase public awareness of overlooked health issues or shape policy and practice in various corners of healthcare.’ Mary inspired me because she fought cancer for 12 years and through out this time, she continually made her voice heard for her plight, poverty and health care. Hellen Keller an American author and political activist said ‘I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do something I can do,’ surely Mary Onyango left a legacy, Rest in Peace.
CAROLINE MUTOKO is an achiever and a half (ha-ha if there is a statement like that,). She is one of my role models, I admire her zeal to shut out all negative energy and focus on what matters. Caroline is a lady who many will agree with me, speaks her mind, and when she speaks whether you like what she is saying or not, you will listen, and respond in a positive or negative way, but what matters is that the message she brings out gets home. Caroline is one of the most famous radio hosts in Kenya, and her show Big breakfast in Kiss 100 addresses issues that affect Kenyans. Her brutal honesty in her shows has landed her into a lot of trouble from court cases to insults in social media, but hey that’s what builds her, speaking her mind out. Other than being a radio host Caroline is known for championing charity events and also peace initiatives. 24 hour for Kenya, which she tirelessly advocated for and crusaded about, was a success, and that move to me was one of a determined Kenyan whose will is to see others lead better lives free of hunger. During post election violence Caroline was busy on air advocating for peace in the country, she sacrificed her time so that she could see Kenya in peace. In an interview Caroline stated that ‘All you have at that point in your life is time. You can either spend it in a bar or you can spend it working and growing!” Women, have to earn their place at the table, which means they must go to the table and once there have something to offer.’ I am very passionate about education and more so education for us young ‘stars’ and one of the things that encourages me is Caroline’s need to ensure that young people acquire education, both academic and in life skills. She once said ‘I worry constantly about the level, depth and nature of education that we have. I want to work with young people between the age of 10 and 24. I am not talking about academia, but about life skills! All the grades in the world are worth nothing if you can’t express yourself, think creatively or connect with people.’ Carol is not all talk, she acts even haters will agree with me on this, yea I said it!! Besides being a radio host Caroline is the Marketing Manager of Radio Africa Group, and a columnist in the Star newspaper – also owned by Radio Africa Group. Audre Lorde Caribbean an American writer, poet and activist once said ‘When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak,’ Carol continue with what you are doing, you are a major inspiration to people like me who look up to you, never give up, self drive and positive thinking is what I learn from you.
TEGLA CHEPKITE LOROUPE is a Long distance track and road runner, and a global spokeswoman for peace, women’s rights and education. Loroupe holds the world record for 20, 25 and 30 kilometers and previously held the world marathon record. She is the three-time world-half marathon champion. She was the first African woman to win the New York City marathon. She has won marathons in London, Boston, Rotterdam, Hong Kong, Berlin, Rome and many of other cities. With her title as a renowned athlete, Loroupe in 2006 was named as United Nations Ambassador of sport by the then secretary general Kofi Annan she is an International Sports Ambassador for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and also for UNICEF. Her pledge for peace especially in her native land Northern Kenya, was recognized by the government of Kenya when in 2010 one hundred warriors downed their weapons, all this was done through her annual series of peace marathons sponsored by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation ‘peace through sports’. She has established a school, Tegla Loroupe peace Academy and orphanage for children from the region in Kapenguria North-west Kenya. Her initiative for peace is not only in Kenya but crosses the borders to Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. Tegla Loroupe is today a member of the ‘Champions for Peace’ club, a group of 54 famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport, created by Peace and Support a Monaco based international organization. I can go on and on about her achievements, but they are so many, and what stands out about Loroupe is her thirst for peace, for people to stop raiding each other and killing each other. This we all know is still an issue that we hear everyday in our local and international news, people killing each other over cattle and land, the good thing is that there is a woman who uses her fame and achievements to eradicate this matter. This is the Kenya we want, the achievers we yearn to nurture in our society. Mia Hamm retired American soccer player quoted ‘So celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed,’ Loroupe is raising that bar by crusading her need for peace and involving other people to work with her, Keep up the good work, I hope many will continue joining you in your cause to fight for peace in Northern Kenya.