Outstanding Kenyan Women Who Broke Barriers

  • Founders of Book Bunk Trust, Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange, at McMillian Memorial Library.
    Founders of Book Bunk Trust, Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange, at McMillian Memorial Library.
    File
  • As the world prepares to celebrate its women as it marks International Women's Day on Monday, March 8, a number of Kenyan women will be walking with their heads raised high.

    Some of these women have stepped up and challenged traditions occasioned by rather oppressive culture and societal norms.

    One cannot count in one hand alone the number of women who have stood out recently; putting their names and that of the womenfolk in the history books.

    They have followed in the footprints of the likes of Prof Wangari Maathai, Grace Onyango, Mary Elizabeth Okello, women who inspired a generation to challenge the status quo.

    Kenyans.co.ke takes a look at five such promising ladies who have made notable achievements in their industries:

    Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange

    The two young women are widely known for transforming the face of public libraries in Kenya. Angela Wachuka and Wanjiru Koinange founded Book Bunk with an aim of enhancing a reading culture among Kenyans, by revamping public libraries in the country primarily McMillan Memorial Library on Banda Street, Eastlands Library in Makadara and Kaloleni Library.

    These achievements led them to receive President Uhuru Kenyatta's commendation in November 2020. Uhuru lauded both ladies for their restoration model in transforming libraries and also empowering communities. 

    Wachuka, one of Kenya’s leading publishers of African literature, revealed that they drew inspiration of launching the firm from the deplorable state of the McMillan Library.

    "We were looking for a place to host a book launch when we first came across the McMillian Memorial Library. We found it in a wanting state and from there we asked ourselves about public libraries and their maintenance. McMillian Memorial Library inspired us to start Book Bunk Firm," she stated.

    Further, her counterpart Wanjiru, a writer and entrepreneur, added that the firm mainly relied on well wishers and donors in order to kickstart their campaign. She revealed that the duo is set to spread their wings and aim at refurbishing other libraries outside Nairobi.

    The Before and After Images of Kaloleni Library
    The Before and After Images of Kaloleni Library
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    Diana Aupe Naker

    Diana Aupe Naker is a captain who rose through the ranks to become the first female Kenya Army Combat pilot. Stationed at the Embakasi Barracks, Naker's role mainly involves escorting foot soldiers, evacuating injured soldiers, and acts as back up when needed.

    Born and raised in Turkana County, the captain didn't envision to one day ply her craft in a career dominated by men.

    During a past interview, she revealed that her chance to join the Kenya army came just as she was set to join Egerton University.

    "While I was preparing to join the university, just as I was applying for the student fees loan, I found out there were open applications for cadets," Naker recalled.

    Her parents, who were reluctant about having their daughter join the military, encouraged her to pursue education at the university instead. Naker would, however, apply to join the military, which she did, as a cadet.

    This, she said, was the beginning of a great journey, which later saw her head to South Africa for advanced training on aviation at the Starlite Aviation Training Academy.

    Captain Diana Aupe Naker of the Kenya Army at the Starlite Aviation Training Academy in Durban, South Africa.
    Captain Diana Aupe Naker of the Kenya Army at the Starlite Aviation Training Academy in Durban, South Africa.
    File

    Joy Lenawalbane 

    Lenawalbane was the first female to be appointed Chief in Samburu County. This came after she was selected as the best candidate from the position. 

    Lenawalbane revealed that clinching a position that had been dominated by men was not a cake walk. She has often advocated for women to become independent, and work hard to take up leadership positions in various industries.

    The chief notes that she is keen to fight Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early child-hood marriages and enhancing security in the region.

    An undated file image of Joy Lenawalbene The First Female Chief in Samburu County
    An undated file image of Joy Lenawalbene The First Female Chief in Samburu County

    Hazel Wachira

    The sensational trailblazer hit the headlines when she led a team of engineers in converting one of Kenya Airways Passenger Dreamliner (Boieng 787) into a cargo plane.

    The historic feat became a defining moment in Hazel's career. 

    "The repurposing of this aircraft, being the first such in the world, took a different route from what is normal. It was different because we did not have modification instructions and no one had. What you see here has never been done before," she stated

    Hazel, who has worked at the airliner for two years, admitted that her dream is to inspire other girls to reach their ultimate potential. 

    Kenya Airways development engineer Hazel Wachira in a repurposed aircraft for cargo in Nairobi on Thursday, February 25.
    Kenya Airways development engineer Hazel Wachira in a repurposed aircraft for cargo in Nairobi on Thursday, February 25.
    File

    Jennifer Riria

    Riria has played a critical role in women empowerment in both Kenya and the African Continent. Further, she is a lady of many firsts, having effectively cleared the path for future women leaders.

    Riria is the Group CEO for Echo Network Africa (ENA) and a founding member of the Kenya Women Finance Trust. She is the chairperson of Women's World Banking - a global network of over 53 microfinance institutions from 30 countries.

    These illustrious contributions to the entrepreneurship sector earned Riria a spot in Forbes Africa's 50 Most Powerful Women 2020.

    Jennifer Riria, featured on Forbes' 50 Most Powerful Women on March 6, 2020.
    Jennifer Riria, featured on Forbes' 50 Most Powerful Women on March 6, 2020.
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