BY NAISULA LESUUDA
Over the weekend, I set off from Samburu County where I had attended an education funds drive for needy children in Loosuk ward, hoping to catch President Barack Obama’s speech at Kasarani.
However, due to a mishap, I could not make it to the Kasarani Gymnasium on Sunday morning and had to watch the speech on TV like most other Kenyans.
All in all, President Obama did nothing short of raising my spirits through the pain as he focused on a topic so dear to my heart – exclusion.
I was elated by the US President’s emphasis on how as a nation we are doomed to failure, if we continue to treat people indiscriminately. He stressed on how a nation that marginalises its women and girls is “Stupid”. His message was that treating women and girls as second class citizens was a bad tradition that needs to change.
“They are holding you back,” he said.
This could not have come at a better time, seeing as we are only two weeks away from the Constitutional deadline of ensuring that we attain the two-thirds gender rule. While some see this as a battle of the sexes, we must remember that women have been marginalised from leadership for ages in our country.
We have one of the most progressive Constitutions in the continent and as we celebrate the strides that we have made, it is also important that we apply the same to the achievement of inclusivity in gender.
Borrowing from the inspirational speech by President Obama, we must ensure that women and the youth who make up a majority of our country, are involved in driving the nation’s leadership. It is not a matter of we need to do it, but a matter of we must do it.
May be we needed to hear it from someone else but the plain truth is that as a nation, we have fallen behind because of only exploring half of the potential we possess as we look to build our economy. The US President rightfully used the analogy of playing only half your team during a football match and expecting to win.
It is therefore time for us as a nation to critically address the inclusion of women in nation building so as to be competitive in the global arena.
As he spoke, I heard President Obama reiterate what I have spoken of since I got into leadership. The injustice that women and girls face in this nation which must stop.
We must, as a country, desist from marginalising women and girls by denying them opportunities. Opportunities, not only to lead, but to also get an education and study to the highest level of the academic ladder.
Coming from one of the communities where culture is upheld to the letter and having had the opportunity to go against the odds; receiving an education and now being a politician championing for the rights of those oppressed in society, I could well relate with President Obama’s speech.
Through my Foundation, I have continuously advocated for the education of especially girls. This is because, most of them for the longest time, have not been able to achieve their full potential due to their role in society; being viewed as only good for herding the families’ livestock, fetching water and searching for firewood for households’ needs.
And as soon as the girls hit puberty, they are traded off as young brides. Shunning such cultures and championing for the education of girls is something I will never stop living for.
Like Obama, I make no apologies when I say that these practices must come to an end if Kenya was to make any strides towards becoming a better nation. I do believe that FGM and early marriages have no place in a modern society that wants to get equal opportunities in a country like ours.
It is for this reason that I found President Obama’s speech both inspiring and time bound as he is viewed as a progressive leader who many look up to, yet he chose to focus his speech towards problems that even our consecutive governments have chosen to let communities address on their own.
To think that some of our traditional cultures are not shunned the world over is to be ignorant. Obama minced no words when he termed some cultures as retrogressive and having no place in the 21st century. I do agree with him that because something is a part of your past does not make it right.
And it was not only the women and girls that he focused on. Obama further touched on the inequalities faced across various regions of this nation when it comes to economic development and access to basics rights of life such as education, food, health and infrastructure among others.
I am glad that I belong to a new face of leadership that believes that all Kenyans are equal and should receive opportunities on an equal ground. I am glad that we have a government that is focusing on this and laud our own President Uhuru Kenyatta for also focusing on the boy child in the ongoing fight against alcohol and drug abuse.
With the newly devolved system of government, it will be key for the national government to ensure equality among all parts of Kenya so as to guarantee all its citizen enjoyment of their basic rights. It is also crucial for development to be achieved nationally as this will go a long way in dealing with insecurity within our borders, especially with improved infrastructure in place.
And to sum it all up, Obama’s most critical quote for me was that “One of the most successful development policies you can pursue is giving girls an education and removing the obstacles that stand between them and their dreams”.
It is not enough to keep the girls in school but also provide them with basic necessities like sanitary towels which I believe the county and national governments should provide instead of leaving the responsibility up to well-wishers and mentorship programs.
Studies have shown that an educated girl has room to make her own choices on various issues such as her career path, family life, healthy living among other areas of critical her life and society at large.
Kudos to the girls as the world’s most successful man noted that it is only through our education and empowerment that the world can get to achieve its maximum potential.
Naisula Lesuuda is a nominated Senator