Celebrated in various places as a day when men and young children give presents to their mothers, aunties and grandmothers in regions such as in Cameroon, Croatia and Bulgaria, as an official holiday in countries such as Angola, Armenia, Burkina Faso and in Italy, Russia and Albania as a day when men give the women in their lives yellow mimosas and chocolates, International Women’s Day remains one of the most significant days in the calendars the world over as a day that is synonymous to highlighting the contribution of women both at work and at home, an anti-discrimination day, a celebration of women’s contribution in the economic, political, social spheres as well as an anti-sexism day.
The entertainment scene remains one of the most influential modes of shaping the younger generation because apart from teachers, the next most accessible teachers come through our TVs. This in the form of the TV programs we watch, the music we listen to and other artistic expressions we are exposed to. The entertainment industry is also vital in the cultural expression as well as documenting the life and times of people. In Kenya, we have had several women who have done a noteworthy job at bettering the entertainment industry. They have ensured that the Kenyan stories and experiences remain relevant to both us and outsiders. They have also shown us how as a country, we fit into the world narrative. Some of these women include:
1) Wanuri Kahiu
As an award winning film director in Kenya, Wanuri delicately links the entertainment world of film to actual thinking, analysis and the life transformation that should come through such works of art. Wanuri is also very passionate about the mother continent and places Africa right at the centre of her work because she is keen on properly portraying her people’s cultures, beliefs and spiritualism in a way that is complete.
Some of her notable films include From a Whisper – the story of the aftermath of the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy. It received 12 nominations and five awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2009, Best Feature Narrative Award at the 2010 Pan-African Film and Arts Festival. Pumzi another great film is a science-fiction that was screened at Sundance Film Festival in 2010.
Wanuri believes that the stories that are told through films have a huge impact in the eventual narration of a people’s life as well as the way they write their futures. This has made her turn a critical eye on Non-Governmental Organisations who work with filmmakers in the country and twisted them into telling the agendas of the money providers rather than the story that is in the heart of the filmmaker(s).
In her words, “We have to be very clear about the messages we are putting out there.” For Wanuri, film, if well executed, can be a powerful agent of transformation in all areas of life; be it gender equity, economic empowerment of women or equality in education. She leads as an example.
2) Ato Malinda
Born in Kenya in 1981, Ato Malinda is a Kenyan visual artist whose body of works consists of performance, drawing, painting, installation, video and ceramic object-making.
Armed with a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Transart Institute, New York, Malinda uses her artistic sense to investigate and narrate the various conflicting notions about what it means to be authentically African in a highly multicultural society that is the world today. She also invites a close examination of gender and sexuality which continue to be subjects that are vital but considered taboo across many cultures. As such there is heavy silence about these subjects which Malinda opens and invites questions… educating the society in the process. Having spent most of her time away from Kenya, her art also looks at the question of identity in a society that is highly mobile and more often than not, we find ourselves out of the designated physical home and have to deal with what this means both physically and emotionally.
Some of the awards Malinda has received in the course of her work include: Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (2015), One Minute Award for moving photography 2012. She has exhibited in Cameroon and Copenhagen to mention just a few.
3) Rosemary Wahu Kagwi
She is a songwriter, singer, entrepreneur and actress. Her first song, Niangalie received a worldwide critical acclaim. She was the recipient of the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2008 for the Best Female Artist category.
She combines both English and Kiswahili language in her songs with a touch of her native Kikuyu folklore. The subjects of her songs are timeless and pertinent such as relationships and love. As an actress, she played a lead role in the TV series, Tazama
She has worked with prominent corporates on promotional materials as well as travelled across the world on tours. She has shared the stage with other prominent international music icons such as Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder.
4) Mkamzee Mwatela
She is the face of opposition in the TV series Mali. As actress, writer, TV Presenter and director, Mkamzee Mwatela shows that there is no role on TV that one can take and leave without a mark. She is one of the beloved villains on Kenyan screens. As the winner of the Kalasha Award for Best Lead Actress in a Drama for the role she played in Mali, her work does not end here. Mkamzee has also been featured in Tahidi High, Siri, Better Days, Stay and Intellectual Scum among others.
Her love for theatre started after she left secondary school and before she went to campus. Between the years 2003-2006 she was on stage. Mkamzee Mwatela believes that everyone should follow their passions in whatever form they come and should not try to conform into the world’s standards when they do not suit them.
5) Suzanna Owiyo
Suzanna is a Kenyan singer and song-writer. Her singing bug bit her long before her high school days having received her early musical influences from her grandfather, an exemplary nyatiti player. While in high school, she continued to nurture her talents and participated extensively in music and drama festival. She won many awards; effectively launching her successful musical career that today spans decades.
The thematic concerns of her music have drawn attention to various issues that afflict the society such as child labour in her song, Sandore, she also recorded and performed for the Kenya Anti-corruption campaign as well as the promotion of tourism in the country.
Suzanna Owiyo has won many awards among them Kora Awards 2002 for the most promising artist and was nominated for the best female artist category for the Pearl of Africa Music Award. She has shared the stage with some of Africa’s finest such as Youssou N’dour, Koffi Olomide and Rebecca Malope. She is currently involved with Plan International’s campaign: “Because I am a girl” whose main objective is to ensure that all girls have access to education, skills and the support needed to ensure that from poverty to opportunity.