June 1 - Madaraka Day in Kenya

Posted on June 1, 2018

Back in 2011, I wrote about Madaraka Day, a patriotic holiday in Kenya. Over the years, I've written about bunches of patriotic days in bunches of nations all over the world. 

But I would like to cycle back and do another take on each of these world holidays and their nations, and I would like to emphasize, this time around, women.

Women are, of course, enormously important in every society. As the saying goes, "Women hold up half the sky." Women do a lot of work that needs doing, including in my own society everything from surgery and dentistry to educating children, from designing houses to building computers, from making art to making music, from caring for children to running farms, from cleaning toilets to making scientific breakthroughs, from becoming an elected official to becoming a corporate bigwig. Some of this work is done without pay, although sometimes unpaid work is the most important of all.

Unfortunately, most societies do not give women equal respect, equal access to education, equal anything. By researching women, writing about women, reading about women, and learning about women, we can make a small contribution to fighting sexism.

Madaraka Day

Madaraka is the Swahili word for "power," and this is the day that commemorates June 1, 1963: the date when Kenya attained self-rule (although not yet complete independence from Britain).

Women in Kenya

Women's position in post-colonial Kenya leaves a lot to be desired, although there have been some advances of late. As of a few years ago, only 20% of parliament positions were filled by women, and only 25% of all women over 25 years old had a high school education.

There's a rating and a ranking put out by the Human Development Report that speaks to sexism in societies. According to the HDR, Kenya's Gender Inequality Index of 0.548, which puts that nation as one of the worst in the world: 122nd out of 152 (at least as of 2013). 

(For comparison purposes, in 2012 the Netherlands was #1 - least gender inequality, also known as most gender equality - with 0.045. The U.S. was ranked #20 in 2014, in a similar rating/ranking.)

My drawing of a Kenyan woman was inspired by the Kenyan flag, the sorts of figures painted by (male) Kenyan artist Shake Makelele, and the kinds of repeated geometric patterns painted by Kenyan artist Sukuro Etale. 

Artwork by Shake Makelele

Artwork by Sukuro Etale

Here are a few stand-outs among Kenyan women:

Muthoni, the Drummer Queen - This woman is a star in the Kenyan music scene!

As a kid, Muthoni joined the school's drumming corps to get relief from the school uniforms and dress-code hairstyles, from tests and grades.

Her parents hoped she would become a professional - and she did! a professional musician! She is now CEO (and founder) of a very successful performance venue. But she also performs on her own stage, drumming in traditional styles, also rapping, also singing.

Mekatilili wa Menza - The Giriama people had been sent to fight for their British colonial government to fight in World War I. And a widow was astonished and appalled at the idea of her people being sent by Europeans to fight other Europeans. She realized that most aspects of colonialism were bad for her people, and so, even though women didn't have political power in her society, Mekatilili wa Menza decided to express her disgust for British rule - through dance!  Mekatilili did the sort of "ecstatic dance" used in funerals - but she attracted attention, crowds, and followers. And eventually the Giriama people were given a measure of self-government again. Mekatilili is now given credit for being a woman who led her people in a rebellion against the British.

Eunice Sum - This Kenyan woman was a champion runner. In 2013 she was the world champion of the 800 meter run.
Juliana Rotich - This IT (information technology) wizard developed tools for crowdsourcing information during big storms or other crises. She also creates web tools to help people dealing with the environment.

Miriam Syowia Kyambi - This multi-media artist studied in Chicago (U.S.A.) and has done work for nations around the world. "Multi-media" means using a variety of materials to create art:

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