What you need to know:
- The lawmaker is serving her fourth term in Parliament, having first joined through party nomination in 2008.
- Inside and outside Parliament, she remains unbowed and undaunted in her defence of women's and children's rights.
In her debut parliamentary address, Suba North Member of Parliament (MP) Millie Odhiambo Mabona, gave a heart-rending reflection of the 2007 post-election violence. In the rallying call, she asked her fellow lawmakers to centre peace efforts in equality and equity.
“As members of this House, we need to remember that though we may have a semblance of peace, what goes on after that depends solely on what we will do. Kenyans are looking for heroes and ‘sheroes’ who can feel the heartbeat and pulse of this country.
"This is a special house that has the mandate of rising up to the challenge of dealing with laws that discriminate against women,’’ she told Parliament in March 2008.
Now a fourth-term MP, Millie has retained her fiery demeanour and has been the undaunted voice of women and children in Parliament. Her bold sentiments and controversial takes have earned her praise and rebuke in equal measure.
In a recent online confrontation, a woman accused her of “constantly talking about sex’’.
In that regard, Millie says: “It is unfortunate that some women have low self-esteem and don't value themselves because of how they were socialised. I will talk about sex until I die because those are the issues that affect women.
"No woman on earth can tell you confidently that they have not had a reproductive health issue since childhood.’’
Her boldness did not begin in the august House. It was cultivated since childhood and when she worked for the Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida), a rights organisation. She mentions her mother, who was a social worker in Homa Bay town, as the inspiration for her commitment to public service.
“Those days there was no Fida or Cradle. Our home was the go-to place for women who were facing legal issues. So, I was introduced to human rights advocacy at a very young age. I originally wanted to do what my mum was doing because I love public service, especially working with women and children.’’
However, Millie explains she could not pursue social work because her university of choice did not offer the course. She chose to study law at the University of Nairobi and later pursued a Master of Laws in Public Service Law at New York University.
She went on to work at the office of the Attorney General and joined Fida, where she was part of the team that assisted in repealing a number of archaic laws dating back to the 1800s.
Millie first got to Parliament through nomination by the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in 2008, and immediately set out to correct discriminatory laws. In 2009, she was appointed to the Parliamentary Committee on Bill of Rights where she mainstreamed women’s and children’s rights.
“When I got into Parliament, there were no provisions for affirmative action. There was only provision for the nomination of 12 MPs under which I came in and we had actually said we should have 50/50 representation of women and men, but the late president did not uphold the commitment.’’
With the 2010 Constitution, Millie says the face of Parliament completely changed.
“One of the most important things was the provision for nominated seats through which many women got into politics. An example is current MP for Samburu West, Naisula Lesuuda, who was first a nominated senator and is now elected. But for affirmative action, it would have been difficult to elect women from those areas.’’
Millie is currently sponsoring the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Art) Bill that seeks to regulate the technology and make provisions for children born out of it.
“I don't have a child and don't shy away from sharing that aspect of my life. In fact, my critics often refer to me as lur (Dholuo for infertile woman), but that doesn't bother me because I am well beyond my reproductive years.
"However, for women, especially in rural areas, infertility is one of the most stigmatised issues and since I am an MP, I have to talk about issues that most rural women can’t talk about,” she says.
She adds that the Bill will assist women to access Art as the cost is currently exploitative. The legislator has also taken a hard stance on perpetrators of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (GBV), an emergent form of abuse against women.
During a parliamentary session, she suggested that perpetrators face life imprisonment if found guilty. She insists that the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, 2018, does not fully address online GBV.
Since technology develops faster than the law, Millie opines that current laws cannot regulate new developments such as Artificial Intelligence (AI).
“You cannot attack people and get away with it. Your freedom of expression cannot violate my right to privacy. AI is able to even imitate someone’s voice. We are now moving from written to vocal disinformation. How will you be able to prove that it is not your voice?”
The MP also sees the Judiciary as the weak link in the protection of human rights. She says their approach to interpretation of the Constitution is conservative and retrogressive.
“The Sexual Offence Act provided for minimum sentences, but the court took that away by arguing that it interfered with their discretion. How can the court rule in such a manner when there are girls who are raped and have to undergo as many as seven surgeries to recover?” she asks.
She is also sceptical about the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule, even with President William Ruto’s memorandum to Parliament asking them to legislate the matter.
“I know with our conservative society, no one will respect the principle, but they would have respected a formula in figures that obligates them in law. I was a hardliner when the provision was being drafted and insisted on numbers instead of a principle, but Martha Karua convinced me to take what we were being offered and live to fight another day.”
She terms it hypocritical for Kenya to portray itself as the most progressive country in East Africa when Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have more diverse legislatures.