The undying spirit of Migori’s Ghati in fight for women’s place

Dennitah GhatiBy TIMOTHY MBAYA via Kenyan Weekly

“First women are not in leadership position by mistake, it’s the duty of every country to ensure women are in leadership,” says Migori County’s Women representative Dennitah Ghati who The Kenyan weekly recently paid a visit at her office in Migori town.

For a woman who started her life at Maeta Village in Kuria East constituency, Ghati has scaled the heights of journalism, activism and politics to become the first woman from the marginalized Kuria community to be elected a legislator.

The young legislator laughs easily and gesticulates energetically as The Kenyan Weekly seeks to know about her life in politics and work she did to end Female Genital Mutilation in her community and empower women across the globe.

“I think activism had stayed with me for long before joining Migori politics. I ran a women rights NGO championing women’s rights, end of FGM, campaign for girl-child education and women empowerment in my native Kuria community,” says Ghati, adding: “If you google my name you’ll find I did enough gender work preceding my election into politics. I didn’t have to join politics to champion for women.”

The legislator who wears a happy smiley face throughout our conversation says the urge to take her activism and push the She Agenda a notch higher through active politics caught up with her during the campaigns ahead of the passing of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010.

“We were campaigning to have a new Constitution in this country as a civil activist where I invested my time and resources to push the agenda through. That is when I realised we can do more at a higher level of policy formulation,” she said.

Through her NGO, she raised funds that she used to sponsor girls from her marginalised community that is still striving to embrace girl-child education.

She also held forums with stakeholders from the community to stamp out the retrogressive cultures of ‘the cut’ and subsequent early marriages.

Since her election in 2013, she has continued to preside over various activities aimed at improving the lives of women and girls within the county and the nation at large.

When she came to power, the first thing she did was help women to register into groups and form Saccos to help increase their voice in seeking tenders and funds.

The legislator also launched table banking to promote economic and social empowerment of women as they loan each other at low interest rates. She did that at a function presided over by Rachel Ruto, the Deputy President’s wife.

As the county patron of Uwezo Fund, Ghati says her office has helped train women and people living with disability to be economically empowered before receiving the funds.

“My office has also partnered with development partners and financial institutions to offer financial training on entrepreneurship and offer soft loans to youth groups and women Saccos,” Ghati says.

The Women’s Representative also has plans lined up to have the affirmative action funds, though she says they arrived late, to help at least two groups in Migori County’s 40 wards. Already eight have benefitted in Rongo constituency.

Elsewhere, in order to improve girl child education through her ‘Sister Mentors’ programme where girls are encouraged on the value of education, good communication and sound reproductive health, the MP is set to give bursaries worth Sh3.6 million to more than 300 girls in the first round.

She, however, confesses that the fight and push for the woman agenda has not been an easy task. For instance, though she has performed tremendously in efforts to stamp out FGM from the Kuria community, there has been a lot of resistance.

She says though culture is not something that you can wake up and wish away, a lot needs to be done to create awareness and push for political goodwill, which she emphasizes still lacks. This makes many women shy from speaking against FGM.

“From where I sit I have to fight alone as a leader as my colleagues fear if they raise the issue they might lose votes in elections. This has been painful,” the women representative noted.

The otherwise detrimental factor, which she attributes to intimidate women from leadership, generally, is the patriarchal history of the national leadership. This has scared off most first time legislators but again, she says, women leaders have adapted appropriately.

Another factor that she admits has slowed her down but has not dampened her spirit is an accident that has seen her bound to a wheel chair. Dannitah appreciates the understanding Migori residents have accorded her. “My constituents gave me time to heal; it has been two years since I went down on a wheelchair. They never gave me a lot of pressure and they have been kind, which has made me to continue with my work without any hitch as I have done exceedingly well in covering all eight constituencies and 40 wards,” says Ghati.

She credits her family members together with her six-year-old daughter for being of “a lot of support’’ to her in adopting to the reality that she has to move around in a wheel chair.

But Ghati, who is the secretary at Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) National Executive Council, can’t stop without boasting of having great support from CORD co-principle and ODM patron Raila Odinga, who has been with her throughout her difficult times.

“The best supporter has been my party leader Raila Odinga, who has been with me from the days I was in hospital. I always see it in his eyes and it’s every time we meet that he remembers my energy before the accident. That’s enough,” Ghati said.

Ghati floored four contestants to emerge Migori County’s premiere Women representative on an ODM ticket. But she still feels that legislator’s in previous and current governments have not prioritized women. She believes that with the Constitution, the country is headed for a bright future.

“It is sad that as a country we still struggle to see if we can add more women in leadership while other countries like Tanzania, Rwanda and Sudan have gone far ahead. We still can’t prioritize women, but as women legislators we will struggle to reverse this since it is not over till it is over,” notes Ghati.

She says her condition will not stop her from serving her people and hopes to still be in politics come 2022. “I only urge my members never to feel intimidated to campaign across the county because I did it without a godfather like others had. I got votes across all communities as my position was never negotiated by communities,” she implored.

Ghati, who decries that flop of the ‘Gender Bill’ a second time, says women who have ascended to various leadership positions, though few, have done much to front the gender agenda and deserve a pat on the back.