“My earliest leadership steps trail back to my days in primary school and secondary school where I was a school prefect and an official of the clubs that I joined for extra-curriculum activities,” says Bernadette Muyomi as we get started with this interview. At 30 years Bernadette is the Minister of Public Service, ICT & Communication and Inter-governmental relations in Busia County in Kenya. Bernadette a first child in a family of four was born in Eldoret where she attended Testimony Primary School and Moi Girls Eldoret. Thereafter, Bernadette joined the University of Eastern Africa Baraton to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. One year into the course she realized that she was more of an art person than science. Therefore, she registered a parallel course in Counseling Psychology. “I was the first student to pursue two parallel courses at the same time; this was by default and not by intent,” she says. Bernadette continued to state that “This did not go well with my lecturers, friction arose and I was discontinued from the nursing course”. She felt it was unfair and went ahead and sought legal redress on this issue. She fought for her right until justice prevailed as Bernadette was reinstated. This was one of her turning points in life. During this one long year of battling for her right, she graduated in Counseling Psychology, published a book on Counseling, and pursued a Post Graduate Diploma in Disaster Management. Thereafter, she registered for Masters in Development Studies. Bernadette went through a political leadership fellowship and was also involved in civic education on what is now the constitution of Kenya. Bernadette's role with the development of the new constitution was to provide women's voices to be heard. This is the time she realized that she had to step out of her comfort zone and set the pace to promote the women. This is evident in her career life even way before she went through the fellowship. Bernadette’s work began with a volunteer job when she was 18 years, immediately after high school. She was working in a youth center promoting reproductive health rights of young people. She did this alongside her studies. In 2008, Bernadette volunteered with an emergency response, United Friends of Mount Elgon (UFOME) after the post-election violence that was experienced in the country. “Women carried the greatest burden of war: they were raped, gave birth to children whose fathers they did not know; they were also infected with diseases”. Bernadette noted, adding that “One of the worst abuses on women is sexual abuse as it robs a woman of her dignity, lowers her self-esteem and kills her psychologically thus hindering her from utilizing her potential positively”. Through her work in this organization, Bernadette pushed for women friendly programs to help them to accept what had happened, as well as adopt to feminine ways of dealing with these challenges in order to restore their lives. Later on, Bernadette became the director in Pamoja Child Foundation, a position she held for only a year as she had to serve as a technical advisor on child protection to the director of children’s services in Malindi; a coastal town. This was a pilot project that nurtured the child protection guidelines of Kenya. With this project, Bernadette noted parents to be the perpetrators of injustices to their children and especially the girl-child. Parents voluntarily gave away or married off their children for sex in exchange for money to both locals and tourists. Child prostitution and child trafficking are high in this region and have led to high numbers of school drop-out. They addressed these issues by enhancing multi-sector child protection referral mechanisms that emphasized on an integrated approach involving teachers, health workers and children’s officers. They also created child friendly initiatives by nurturing confidence in the children to understand that they have a voice and a right to defend themselves. After completing the one year assignment, Bernadette joined Actionaid International Kenya as Project Manager in charge of projects on Women and Land. By working with women at the grassroots, she played an instrumental role in pushing for women land rights to be anchored in the land laws that were enacted in Kenya in 2012. This was through hosting grassroots dialogue forums by which women could understand land as a factor of production, their contribution to households’ incomes through the use of land. Women were dark sided and sidelined as stakeholders in land ownership and control. Among the issues that the land laws pronounce is co-ownership, which will help to protect women against exploitation by spouses or other family members or in the case of polygamous settings. Additionally, before accepting her appointment as a minister, Bernadette worked at World Renew as a Regional Project Manager of East and Southern Africa and led programs in Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi and Tanzania. Her projects consisted of pushing for women to be at the core of project both at leadership, beneficiary and execution levels. From June 2013, Bernadette was appointed as the Minister for Public Service, ICT and Inter-governmental Relations. The position made her one of the youngest women in the country to be appointed to this office. “Most County positions are dominated by men, in most cases women are assigned to head portfolios that are deemed feminine such as education, social services and gender...Through heading the public service, I hope to push for affirmative action that will see pro-women budgeting, recruitment and considerations,” Bernadette stated. Apart from her mainstream work, Bernadette is also running a mentorship program for women and girls. “Through this, I assist women and girls that I interact with directly to build confidence to explore their potentials and to move progressively towards forming women to women net-works to push for common agenda affecting women and girls,” Bernadette stated. Her good work and positions enlist her as a role model for future generations of women to become leaders in women’s rights.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Profiles