Phoebe Asiyo: Kenya’s first woman elder Her story

Phoebe Asiyo was a trailblazer for women’s rights and equality in Kenya. She made history as the first Kenyan woman to become a Senior Superintendent of the Kenya Prisons and played a key role in improving its rehabilitation programs and separating male and female prisons. Later, she became the first African woman head of Maendeleo ya Wanawake before entering politics. She represented Karachuonyo as a member of parliament, advocating for the education of girls and fighting for women’s rights and gender equality.

Asiyo served as the Chair of the Caucus for Women Leadership since 1997 and was a member of Parliamentarians of Global Action and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Fund for Women for 17 years. She was awarded the Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya in 2009 and became the first woman elder in Kenya’s 42 communities, including the Ameru and Mijikenda.

The installation of Asiyo as an elder was a grand event attended by the Chair of the Luo Council of Elders, Ker Riaga Ogalo, her husband Richard, and her children Aseto Asiyo and Dr. Mary Asiyo. The traditional Luo customs and traditions were followed during the installation, including the crowning with a ligisa and an orengo, symbolizing her belonging to the community and her leadership abilities. Asiyo served two five-year terms in parliament, becoming the longest-serving woman MP in her time. Her Affirmative Action motion in parliament, although defeated in 1977, was eventually implemented after being returned by Beth Mugo in 2000.

Phoebe Asiyo was born in 1932 to a pastor and was raised in a missionary center. Despite the cultural norms of the time, she attended Gendia Primary School in Karachuonyo and later Embu Teachers Training College. She had a brief teaching career before joining the prisons department, where she quickly rose to the position of Senior Superintendent.