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19 Pioneering Kenyan women that you should know [….. They fought HARD to BREAK the BARRIERS]

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#1:. Wangari Maathai

As you enjoy jogging around Karura forest it is hard to imagine it without trees. Maathai together with other conservationists fought against land grabbers to save Karura forest. Maathai was the first woman in East Africa to earn a PhD, a doctorate in Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi. This earned her various positions including Senior lecturer in anatomy (1975) Chair of department in Veterinary Anatomy (1976), and Associate professor (1977).

While in these positions, Maathai negotiated for better terms of employment for women. Maathai also served as an elected Member of Parliament and Assistant minister for Environment and natural resources in the year 2003and 2005 respectively. The highlight of her life was when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to the environment, development, democracy and peace. She also won other awards including the Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Goldman Environment Prize (1991).

To date the Greenbelt Movement that she also formed in 1977 under the auspices of National Women Council of Kenya (NCWK) continues to carry the spirit of environment conservancy in honour of Wangari Maathai and what she stood for.


#2:. Grace Ogot

Grace Ogot was mourned by many who knew of her literary works as an author of many anthologized short stories. Ogot was the country’s first women MPs (Gem constituency) and the first woman to have a fiction novel published by the East African publishing house. Some of her work includes Land without Thunder (1968), The Island of tears (1980), The Other Woman (1976) and The Promised Land (1966). Ogot was a trained nurse who served as an assistant minister of culture and social services. She also worked as a scriptwriter and announcer for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) wrote for a column the viewpoint in the East African Standard.


#3:. Asenath Bole Odaga

Bole is known as the first woman to set up a publishing house, Lake Publishers in Kisumu, during a time when every writer ran to other established publishers. She also served as a lecturer in the 1960s at the University of Nairobi – Institute of African Studies. Bole was also involved in providing reading materials in schools through her work like Oral Literature for Schools and Yesterday’s Today: The Study of Oral Literature (1984). Bole was also keen on women rights and successfully ran an NGO that provided financial literacy and skills that allowed for women to carry out small-scale business.


#4:. Micere Githae Mugo

Micere is one woman who is passionate about her country despite being exiled to Zimbabwe and later the US to escape the then regime. The playwright, author, poet and activist was among the first black women to get admission to a segregated high school, Alliance Girls High School. Together with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, they put together a play, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi that drew a lot of attention even from the government. Micere has been listed as one of 100 most influential people in Kenya by the East African Standard. Micere also served as a Dean Faculty at UoN becoming the first female to serve in that position in Kenya.

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