Saturday, October 1, 2011

Musimbi Kanyoro: Kenyan Woman Who Became a Global Leader

There are many phenomenal Kenyan women working all over the world...Recently appointed Global Fund for Women Head's, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro's star has been rising and rising way before some of us wrote about her like this 1997 story. Very humble yet powerful in her humility...She sure is headed places......I wish her well...
Sunday 02 November, 1997 — The newspaper that serves the nation 
 “As long as women are willing to remain subservient and
 play inferior roles in society they cannot possibly be a
 power to change anything,” Mrs Zarina Patel, head of
 NCK’s race relations, said in April 1973 at the Young
 Women Christian Association’s (YWCA) World Membership day
 luncheon in Nairobi. These words may have been uttered so
 long ago, but one young woman might as well have been in
 that audience as she has lived them throughout her life
 and many years later, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro has been elected
 the new World YWCA’s secretary-general, the first woman
 from a third world country to do so in the more than a
 century old history of YWCA. She trounced three finalists
 from Asia, North America and Australia.
 Dr Kanyoro succeeds Elaine Hesse Steel, who left the
 World YWCA at the end of August after more than 10 years
 to become Director-General of United World Colleges. She
 will be the 10th general secretary.
 On her qualification she says: “I believe that if I am
 qualified for a post, nothing should stop me from trying
 my luck. I just applied for the job, was interviewed and
 I emerged at the top,” she told Lifestyle last week when
 she made a stop-over at the Jomo Kenyatta International
 Airport on her way to Geneva from Uganda.
 Dr Kanyoro says she looks forward to “working with women
 globally in an organisation that has worked with women
 for over 100 years.” She joins the YMCA with a wealth of
 international experience: “Much of my experience has
 been in a global organisation which addresses
 international issues in the same way as the YWCA. I come
 with a view of what it means to work cross-culturally and
 have had extensive experience working with grassroots
 women in all regions of the world. One concern I have had
 is to see that communication is not hindered by
 established class and racial differences. This gives me
 some background to understand the work of the YWCA.” The
 YWCA is an international volunteer membership movement
 bringing together some 25 million women working in over
 100 countries to achieve common social justice
 imperatives by increasing the participation of women at
 all levels of society. Crossing barriers of distance,
 language and culture, World YWCA members join together to
 work for peace with justice, sustainable development,
 human rights for all and environmental integrity.
 Dr Kanyoro has all the confidence she needs to lead the
 world body. “I am convinced that the World YWCA has an
 agenda that will be relevant for the next century,” she
 said. She is going\ sdm0,1,9.3,9.3,9.3r to hold the post
 for the next five years.\Boorn 43 years ago in Kakamega,
 Dr Kanyoro,who has lived in Geneva since 1988 with her
 family – husband Muhonge Kanyoro from Kiambu, daughter
 Wariri, 12, and Kanyoro, 15 – attended Alliance Girls’
 High School with, among others, Presidential candidate
 Charity Ngilu. Later she joined the University of Nairobi
 for a BA in Literature and Linguistics, graduating in
 Soon after graduating, Dr Kanyoro left for the US – in
 1978 – to study for a Masters in Linguistics from the
 University of Texas and soon after started and completed
 a doctoral programme in the same field. But all this was
 not before she had met Kanyoro in Maralal in 1977 as part
 of a Kenyan team in an exchange group composed of both
 Kenyans and from foreign countries at a voluntary camp
 building a community centre there. “We had met earlier
 while I was a student at Alliance and he at Kenyatta
 University when they used to admit Form Five and Six
 students to study there. But when we met during the camp,
 we discovered each other anew and not even our different
 tribal backgrounds could block the romance which
 blossomed into marriage later,” she narrates.
 By pursuing further studies, Dr Kanyoro was contemplating
 becoming a lecturer in our universities but this was not
 to be. “I hoped to come back here and teach linguistics
 but when I returned to Kenya, I was scooped by the United
 Bible Society (UBS) where I found that I was making use
 of my knowledge more in translation of the Bible into
 different languages than I would have done by just
 lecturing.” This was a very challenging job for her and
 it was to pave the way for her leadership positions later
 in life. “The UBS had projects in some of the most
 remote areas of the country such as Turkana and trying to
 translate their language and others into Kiswahili was
 not an easy task,” she told Lifestyle.
 But Turkana and other tough languages were not all she
 did. “We also helped to translate the Creole language in
 Mauritius and other countries close to Kenya and this was
 no joke. It helped me appreciate the differences that we
 have not only in different tribes but in races too,” she
 adds. It was to come in handy in her mixed marriage.
 Since 1978, Dr Kanyoro has served as the executive
 secretary for Women in Church and Society of the Lutheran
 World Federation (LWF) Department for Mission and
 Development in Geneva. Prior to this, she was the first
 woman consultant with United Bible Societies in Kenya.
 Dr Kanyoro is impressed with the local YWCA chapter.
 “They are very strong and active and as I move around
 visiting other chapters world wide, Kenya will benefit a
 lot as I am quite familiar with most of their
 activities.” She also feels strongly about Kenyan women
 in general. “It is good to see women really coming out
 in the political arena this time. We should use our
 talents everywhere and we should be felt not only in the
 kitchen and homes but in leadership nationally and
 globally.” She says of women’s achievements: “Today
 from Kampala, I was piloted by a woman. In Switzerland,
 our High Commissioner is Esther Tole, the first Kenyan
 woman to hold that position there. I believe I am a role
 model for others too and I don’t see why in the next few
 years, we should not have a female “Kofi Annan” in the
 UN. Dr Kanyoro has a lot of support from her family. “My
 husband has been a great motivating factor in my
 endeavours as he has never discouraged me from getting
 what I want although we discuss it first and see how it
 will affect our family in all ways,” she told Lifestyle.
 Mr Kanyoro, who previously worked with the local
 government and later as a financial director of KTDA here
 in Kenya, works with the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund.
 Their children attend school in Geneva but the family
 comes to Kenya often. “We intend to come back here one
 day when the time is right as this will always be home,”
 Dr Kanyoro says.
 Leadership runs in the family too. Her elder sister,
 Joyce Umbima is the outspoken chairperson of Kenya
 Alliance for Advancement of Children (KACR). Dr Kanyoro
 has written six books: In Search of a Round Table, Women
 Leadership and Theology, The Power we Celebrate, Groaning
 in Faith (published in Kenya), Speaking for Ourselves and
 The Will to Arise: African Women in Culture and
 Tradition. She is also the general editor of Lutheran
 World Federation Women Magazine. Any hope for Kenyan
 women? “Women in Kenya can only achieve anything if they
 are united and use their talents to benefit others. But
 men should not pull us down. They should not see us as
 threats to their leadership,” she says.
 To women vying for parliamentary seats, Dr Kanyoro says:
 “Be clear about what you want to happen, why we are
 voting for someone. We all need civic education, to know
 our constitution well and then we can win our battles,”
 she advises. How does she spend her free time? “Besides
 pursuing another doctorate in Theology from San Francisco
 Theological Seminary (just to put into paper all the
 theology I have been dealing with), I lecture in
 different colleges in Switzerland either as part of my
 work or part time work. I also write a lot,” she says.
 She expects to complete the second doctorate in May next