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Vigilant In The Fight For Women's Rights In Kishushe.

Mary rep

Mary Vigilance is a local leader and member of the Sauti Ya Wanawake Kishushe Women’s Network, a movement of women human rights defenders and development activists in the County.

In Voi, at the heart of Taita Taveta County, the sun adamantly lingers with its scorching rays hitting the already semi-arid land of Kishushe. The population here is a bit low due to the harsh climate but still, there are many die-hards who strive to thrive. Mary Vigilance Saleka is one of them living by the hills of Wundanyi. Mary is an assertive woman who has encountered challenges but is not the type to give up.

Mary Vigilance is a local leader and member of the Sauti Ya Wanawake Kishushe Women’s Network, a movement of women human rights defenders and development activists in the County.

Mary describes her journey in leadership as thorny but attributes her success so far to her strong personality, engaging in both community and political leadership. “Leadership comes naturally for me. Nobody taught me how to be a leader “says Mary. It is no wonder her second name is ‘Vigilance’.

It all started when Mary was appointed into the Board in one of her children’s school and became a member of Lands Control board at the tender age of 24. With building confidence, Mary Vigilance later vied for political position as a Councilor in 2002 but failed as she did not have enough money to fuel her campaign but that did not stop her from pursuing her leadership goals. She successfully vied in 2007 emerging top of the 8 contestants, 7 of who were men.

However, her stint in politics did not last long as many factors restrained her from vying for another term once her initial 5 years expired.

Mary farm
Mary , showing off the healthy spinach crop which she grows in a greenhouse on her piece of land. ActionAid /Cynthia Peter
Cynthia Peter/ActionAid Kenya

Setting an example to the rest of the community in Kishushe, Mary dug water pond to harvest runway water that she uses for micro-irrigation in her farm. She now earns her livelihood from agriculture using runoff water and techniques such as the construction of gabions zai-pits and greenhouses that she grows crops through the year. She has diversified her livelihood by rearing dairy goats and cattle. To share this knowledge, Mary has trained 45 women who are now .up-scaling agro-ecology farming in a semi-arid area that people never believed that crop production was possible.

As a member of Sauti Ya Wanawake Kishushe, Mary Vigilance was among the women who took part in the Women To Kilimanjaro campaign, where she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a climb that symbolized women’s struggle in achieving their land rights.

Through her leadership in the land and women campaign post the Kilimanjaro climb, the County Government of Taita has allocated funds and appointed a committee to review the lease agreement and initiate adjudication processes. She also advocated for women included in the male-dominated 14-ranch committee and last year, 4 women were admitted into the board which is a big milestone for the women in Kishushe. 

Through her leadership, Mary has petitioned Kenya Wildlife Service to review the compensation policy and fencing of the park to reduce conflict, which has been done. Mary has also lobbied for suspension of expansion of ranches into community land where an administrator who was colluding with investors to sell community land was arrested, interdicted, making the Government commit to reviewing the leases.

She has also experienced resistance from her current community especially from men who think she is too aggressive in fighting for the rights of women. However, she ascertains that ActionAid has helped a great deal to help her bring the change in her community especially in fighting violence against girls and women.

Mary has some advice to women leaders from the next generation, “Being a woman leader is a privilege. Do not be afraid to lead other people. Be a brave woman to stand in the gap to overcome the obstacles of women in leadership.”