LOOK AT ME FROM THE NECK UP

Gitugi Tea Factory had never had a woman as chairperson in its 25 years of existence. No woman dared. It was a man’s job. So when I threw my hat in the ring, there were whispers and - I’m certain - sniggers.

How does a woman campaign for the seat of a chairperson that has not been dominated by men for decades? She rises earlier than men. That’s what I did during the campaign period; I’d get up when it was still dark and cold. I’d knock on doors and introduce myself as one of them - a farmer of tea, a parent who wants the same things for her children, a believer in God. Then I’d express my interest to serve them. I’d ask them to give a lady a chance this time and see what we were capable of for a change. What did they have to lose? I had more to lose. ‘Give me a chance to have you as my boss.’ I’d say. Then I’d move to the next door and next door till late in the night.

I knocked on over 1,000 doors. That’s over a thousand different faces, a thousand conversations, a thousand questions and a thousand lessons on how to knock on the next door. Elections are dirty by nature. They are worse if you are a woman. Some people were saying dirty things about me to discredit me. Untrue things. Wild fiction.

The wildest was a rumour that I was not my daughter's father. I said, 'the man is dead, I wish he could resurrect and set this record straight if it's so important who my father is.' If you are a woman and you are getting into a male-dominated sphere, prepare for ugliness.

The day I was elected - seven years ago - I cried. It helps to have a supportive family. My husband was my rock. Without him, I wouldn't have managed. He supported my early mornings and late nights and he encouraged me. No matter how strong you are, you need that encouraging whisper in your ear that you can do it. It helps on those desperate days.

I’ve been re-elected four consecutive years as the director of Gitugi Tea Factory and as a one-time chairlady since Fairtrade enlisted about eight years back. My opponents have reduced over the years, from nine, six, two, one and with last year I got in unopposed.

What’s the secret? Tell the truth. It’s that simple. I’m transparent, I fight for everybody’s right. Each time I won, I assured my opponents that it was a race and now it was over I would serve everybody fairly, even those who never voted for me. You have to rise above politics after politics. And the only sure way to be re-elected is to deliver.

I don’t believe women should be handed seats because they are women. I’m not a fan of nominations. Everybody has to work for their position. If you are handed something on a silver platter, you won’t appreciate its value.

It was extremely tough the first time in office because it was a time that people thought women didn’t have leadership skills. Those who were against me were against me because I'm a woman. I'd tell them, " don't look at me from the neck down, look at me from the neck up."

I was raised by a good man, a father who didn’t see gender. I grew up in Othaya. When we both passed primary school exams with my brother, he was faced with the decision to send one of us to high school because of lack of funds. He chose to send me first because I had performed better than my brother. Nobody could understand because at that time men educated boys, not girls. So from an early age, I was validated.

My position has greatly encouraged women, it made them realise that they can speak up and be heard. That you can do anything as a woman. I have opened doors for many women in the factory leadership and encouraged them to rise. I tell them they must prove that they deserve it but also to be answerable.

How do I handle the men I deal with? I respect them and I earn their trust. I try to understand where they are coming from. And when I have learnt to differentiate the Dorcas the wife from the Dorcas the director but mostly I conduct myself with dignity. Men will respect you if you respect yourself.

All my four children are over 40 years old. I’m also a grandmother. I hope my daughters have learnt to be strong and consistent and to get the best out of what you have. I hope I inspire them to be better.

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