Women continue smashing ceiling to occupy top public service posts

Monday, September 6th, 2021 23:34 |
Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu. Photo/Courtesy

Reuben Mwambingu and Eric Wainaina

Last week, Chief Justice Martha Koome, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru joined Ethiopia President Sahle-Work Zedwe, Tanzania President Suluhu Hassan, former Liberia President Sirleaf Johnson among others in the list of the most influential women  in the continent. 

The feat adds to those of many women in the country whose hard work, professionalism and intellect have seen them rise to the helm of the Public Service. 

The elevation of Rosemary Oduor to position of acting Managing Director and chief executive  at Kenya Power last month was another feather to the caps of women in the country.

As the number of women holding lofty and powerful positions continue to increase; political leaders and civil societies have heightened agitation for gender equality in public service.

Oduor has worked with the utility company since 1991. Prior to her appointment, she was the company’s General Manager in charge of Commercial Services and Sales.

She took over the firm on August 13 following the abrupt resignation of Bernard Ngugi, who had been in charge of the troubled firm for 21 months.

Oduor now joins Rebecca Miano, as the two women who control Kenya’s energy producing sector.

New heights 

Former Nyeri Woman’s Rep Priscilla Nyokabi, currently a commissioner with the National Gender and Equality says women have been scaling new heights in the country, acting as role models for the future generation.

“Kenya is moving towards the right direction in terms of gender parity. It is encouraging to see more and more women rising to influential positions. This gives a lot of hope to youthful women.

If this trend can continue, the future is bright for women in Kenya,” says Nyokabi.

Besides the Cabinet, which has six female Cabinet Secretaries, women holding key government slots include Lady Justice Martha Koome, who successfully withstood all obstacles on her way to beat nine other candidates, among them Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia to become Kenya’s first female Chief Justice.

The same Judiciary has Deputy CJ Philomena Mwilu, who had served as acting CJ for five months following the retirement of David Maraga as well as Anne Amadi, who occupies the Office of the Chief Registrar, while other women are serving as chief executive officers, chairpersons and directors of key commissions and parastatals.

Taveta MP Dr Naomi Shaaban, who once served as Minister for Gender and Children Affairs under President Mwai Kibaki regime, says the shift to recognition of women leadership is a positive sign that now “people are recognising and appreciating that a woman can do just as much as a man if not more.”

“Having been a minister for Gender, I do appreciate that people are recognising women’s power now.

We attribute this to not only the Constitution but generally it is a change of attitude that men are now appreciating women not for the fact that they are women, but because they are qualified and equal to the task,” she said and hailed President Uhuru Kenyatta for his gesture of recognising that women can lead.

President Uhuru who has been quietly charming his way into the hearts of women, has Farida Karoney (Lands), Raychelle Omamo (Foreign), Amina Mohammed (Sports), Monica Juma (Defence), Sicily Kariuki (Water), Prof Margaret Kobia (Gender) and Betty Maina (Trade) as members of his Cabinet, while several others are holding positions of Principal Secretaries and Chief Administration Secretaries.

A gender analysis report by the United States Agency for International Development for the year 2020, acknowledges that in the recent past, women have been appointed to head influential dockets in Government, ministries, chairpersons of parliamentary committees as well as members of diplomatic corps.

“Women CSs have been assigned to the following influential ministries: Defence, Education, Science and Technology, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Lands and Physical Planning, Health and Public Service and Gender.

Diplomatic corps: Only 23 per cent of the diplomatic corps is women,” reads the report, but notes that more needs to be done.

Yet another woman calling the shots in a powerful public office is  Auditor General Nancy Gathungu who sits at the  office, which is dreaded by public officials.

As the name of her office suggests, Gathungu is mandated to audit Government bodies and report on their management of allocated funds.

Gathungu succeeded Edward Ouko in the office, which has been a thorn in the flesh of CSs, heads of parastatals and political leaders, particularly governors, who often find their usage of funds flagged through the annual reports.

Dr Margaret Nyakang’o was in December 2019 sworn in as the Controller of Budget for a one eight-year  term.

She took over from Agnes Odhiambo, whose term ended in August the same year.

Nyakang’o, who previously was a Director at the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, emerged the best out of a field of  15 applicants among them Stephen Masha, who was serving as the acting Controller of Budget. 

Nairobi-based lawyer Miano, smashed the ceiling in 2017 to became the Managing Director and  first chief executive of Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), the largest power-production company in the East African region.

Miano started working for KenGen as senior legal officer, was promoted to company secretary and legal affairs director until 2017, when she trounced 90 other applicants to become the company’s boss.

Fatumah Ahmed of the Kenya  Air Force, in 2018 made history for being the first woman in the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) to rise to the position of the Major General, two years after she made another history as the first woman Brigadier-General. 

The same year, President Uhuru made history when he picked Lieutenant Colonel Rachael Kamui attached to the Kenya Air Force, as his Aide-de-Camp, making it the first time a Kenyan Head of State has a female ADC.

The Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (RRP), a critical outfit, whose cardinal function is to regulate political parties to ensure they comply with the set laws, and which is currently busy vetting and registering parties ahead of 2022, is under the leadership of Anne Nderitu who took over from Lucy Ndung’u, who was the first holder of the office.

Largest city

At the county level, Ann Kananu boasts to head the largest city in East and Central Africa by the virtue of her being the acting Nairobi Governor, a position she took early this year after the impeachment of beleaguered Mike Sonko.

In 2017, former CSs Ngilu and Waiguru became the first elected governors, to join a team of seven deputy governors and five county assembly speakers in various counties.

Another three women – Uasin Gishu Senator Prof Margaret Kamar, the Senate Deputy Speaker, Susan Kihika (Nakuru) and Fatuma Dullo (Isiolo) made history as the first women to be elected in the Upper House of Parliament.

At the National Assembly, women occupy about 21.8 per cent of elected positions and among those chairing key committees include Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga (Finance), Murang’a’s Sabina Chege (Health), Busia’s Florence Mutua (Education) and Kitui South MP Rachael Nyamai (Lands).

Lawyer Dorothy Jemator, former Constitutional Implementation Commission vice-chair, Dr Elizabeth Muli and commercial law lecturer at the University of Nairobi  were appointed to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission select-panel to conduct interviews for electoral body’s commissioner.

 Further, President Uhuru also appointed former Citizen TV anchor Kanze Dena as the State House Spokesperson and Head of the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit, making her the first woman to hold such a position in Kenya while the State House Deputy Chief of Staff is Ruth Kagia.

Former Machakos County Commissioner Matilda Sakwa as its Director General heads the National Youth Service while the College Commandant is Ruth Mbuvi.

On the other hand, Ann Makori is the Chairperson of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority that checks crime committed by police officers against members of the public.

Paradigm shift

Dr Nancy Macharia is the Teachers Service Commission boss, and is serving her second term as the chief executive, Kabale Tache is the National Lands Commission chief executive as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission is chaired Lyn Mengich.

Former Meru Woman Rep Florence Kajuju heads the Commission on Administrative Justice.

Col Alice Mate, a lawyer, navy officer who worked in the legal department of the military for almost 10 years, was in April appointed as director of the Assets Recovery Agency, replacing retired Muthoni Kimani.

At Kenya Red Cross, Dr Asha Mohammed who took over from long-serving Secretary General Abbas Gullet, is steering the Organisation alongside fellow women including First Deputy Governor Dr Jacqueline Kitulu, and Second Deputy Governor Julianne Kamau.

Brought up in Kibra Nairobi, Dr Asha believes there is a paradigm shift on the contemporary girl child as compared to several decades ago where many communities believed that “the girl’s place was in her husband’s home, to cook and look after children.”

“During our time it was never easy. It was a real struggle for a woman to follow her ambitions. But today I have two daughters and I see the opportunities that they have and I realise that there is a lot that a girl child can do in today’s world,” she said.

Other women in top positions are chairperson of the board of the Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation Prof Elizabeth Pantoren, who was the first female to be awarded a PhD in the Rendille community and the entire Marsabit county where for decades, pastoralist girls and women have been oppressed by men who were bestowed with massive powers by culture

Dorothy Pala is the Netflix Manager, International Originals Africa while Mary Mwiti is the acting CEO at the Council of Governors.

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