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“I’ll Go For It! I Will Not Wait Until I’m 30” Cathy

Ms. Cathy Wanjiku Irungu: Candidate for Women’s Represeniative in Nyeri County

Catherine “Cathy” Wanjiku Irungu
Age 27
Candidate for Women Representative
Mathira Constituency
Nyeri County
Grand National Union Party of Kenya (GNU)
When I first met Cathy Irungu in passing on the street, I could feel her wave of confidence and self-assurance from a mile away. Business owner, second-time candidate, ngo-founder, and citizen mobilizer; these could be the job titles of many people, but Cathy, at only the age of 27 embodies each and every one of these roles.

Starting her first business at the age of 17, Cathy followed in the footsteps of her father who was a farmer and entrepreneur in Nyeri County of Central Kenya. The lessons she learned as the eldest child of four by her mother and one of twelve children in her entire family translated into skills that she would utilize as a class prefect and later head girl during her early education at D.E.B. Ndimaini Primary School and Muruguru Girls High School.

When she left her village to study biochemistry and molecular biology at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, she subsequently discovered her intuitive talent for political engagement when she became a student leader in university government.

It was also during this formidable period in her life that she became involved in national political campaigning and the party system in Kenya.Unlike many of her peers, who saw their university educations as a ticket for finding a job to work for someone else, Cathy challenged the norm by forging her own pathway as an entrepreneur, problem solver and candidate for office.

Her life-long observation of the environmental, social and cultural barriers that challenged farmers in her village of Ndimaini from reaching their greatest economic potential lead her to start the African Food Security & Environmental Program (AFSEP).

Cathy also saw the need for educated young people to have a platform for connecting their ideas to those who could fund and implement them, leading her to become the Kenya representative for Infospring—an online resource for development professionals and members of the community to exchange solutions for complex challenges.

With a strong business background and a desire to help other women, she also became the co-founder of the Kenyan Women Chamber of Commerce.

When Cathy began her quest for office as a candidate for Parliament in 2007, she saw it as a starting point for her role in governance—-the place where she could bring the greatest positive change for her village and the people of Nyeri County that she cared so much about. Although she knew she was young, she embraced the call to office, and notes, “I’ll start right now.

I’ll go for it! I will not wait until I’m 30. I will not wait until I’m 35.” Even though she was very involved in her political party, when the nomination phase arrived, she dropped out of the race. The challenges of limited monetary resources, negative perceptions as a young, unmarried women, and a convoluted nomination process were too great for even a confident and motivated candidate.

2012 presents another window of opportunity for Cathy, who has decided to run for the Women’s Representative seat in Nyeri County; this time around she is not only trusted more in her community, but also has a more mature understanding of how to operate her campaign in the context of a the new constitution which encourages more women like Cathy to participate in governance.

Cathy’s commitment to engaging other women in leadership is evident through the robust Nakuru County Women’s Network and the Nairobi County Women’s Forum , which she regularly mobilizes through civic engagement on issues affecting women in governance.

Her grassroots relationships with citizens across Kenya, particularly women, is sure to become a cornerstone of support for her candidacy.
Cathy notes that, “Women need to have synergy in what they are doing….so that as we try to address challenges and try to make Kenya a better place, we do it as one.”

I am looking forward to shadowing Kathy in Mathira Constituency (Othaya and Mukurwini) in a few weeks to better understand the roots of her passion and commitment to leading Kenya forward as a public servant.

Here are some quick notes from Cathy’s formal video interview (to be posted soon):
1.) Agriculture
a. Food Security
i. Need for increased food production.
ii. Much of problem created by policy
iii. Farmers need to be trained in new techniques
b. Environment/Climate Change is endangering lifestyles
i. Plant more trees
ii. Alleviate poverty sustainably
1.) Perceptions as a young, single candidate
-Gaining acceptance on the ground
2.) Women don’t vote for other women
-Most meeting attendees were men and boys
3.) Resources for running her campaign
-Frequent “vote buying”
4.) Nomination Process by Party is not “Free & Fair”
-She withdrew at that phase of the process
-Candidates frequently rigged out of nomination
1.) Build a network of other women running for office
a. There is power in numbers
b. Encourage women to support other women…even if in other provinces
2.) Start Now!!! Don’t wait to run for office.
3.) “Don’t fear men….make them our best friends.”
Stories and Photography by Ellie Van Houtte – www.herstorywins.com

One Response

  1. Go 4it young lady. U have the potential. If those listed objectives are anything 2go by, then any development-minded citizen will vote u in. But when time comes, tembea mashinani, women groups na Church meetings and meet akina cùcù. It will work.

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