Gloria Orwoba: The five Bills I am pushing in my first term

Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba, an anti-period poverty champion.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • Shortly after taking the oath of office, she presented the Konza Technopolis Bill; it has undergone the First Reading
  • Orwoba has already drafted the Sanitary Towels Provision Bill, which seeks to end period poverty in Kenya through free sanitary towels to all schoolgirls and prisoners.

Once on full charge, nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba’s phone would serve her for at least 12 hours before it needed a recharge.

In the last 10 days, however, the battery runs out of charge after every five hours. The phone has suddenly become abnormally busy since she was kicked out of the Senate’s plenary session after her colleagues spotted blood stains on her white trousers.

“I was on my periods,” she says.

She was thrown out of the Senate after her colleague Tabitha Mutinda raised the alarm, questioning whether Ms Orwoba had adhered to the House’s dress code.

“It is uncomfortable and inappropriate. You don’t understand if she is on the normal woman cycle or she’s faking it, and it is so indecent. There was a better way to raise this issue and this was not setting a good example to young women and girls,” complained Ms Mutinda.

Ms Orwoba says: “Since then, I have been receiving thousands of calls and messages from both friends and strangers. Some of the people are hurling insults, while others are praising me for the bold move in advocating free sanitary pads distribution to end period stigma among girls.”

Cyber bullies are also baying for her blood on social media to the extent that she is contemplating leaving Twitter as a measure to protect her mental health.

“I’m human and ignoring all the criticism and ridicule is not possible,” says Senator Orwoba, who is also founder and former country manager of Rangi Yetu Organisation, an entity that empowers youth and women by helping them start businesses.

Ms Orwoba, who wants to break the ceiling by becoming the first female MP for Bobasi Constituency, Kisii County, in 2027, has called on the Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Affirmative Action to facilitate the provision of feminine hygiene products in all public schools.

Despite the negative comments, hundreds of people have praised her move by coming out strongly and talking about what most people wish to speak about in hushed tones.

“For the last 10 days, I have received loads of sanitary pads in my office from donors. Some sponsors are also erecting billboards with my photo in various parts of Nairobi in a campaign dubbed ‘End Period Shaming’,” she says.

“I’m also expecting a number of containers full of sanitary pads from donors abroad, who have read about my campaign.”

Sanitary Towels Provision Bill

Ms Orwoba has already drafted the Sanitary Towels Provision Bill, which seeks to end period poverty in Kenya through free sanitary towels to all schoolgirls and prisoners.

Ms Orwoba plans to fight for the passage of this bill and four others in the next five years.

“We, first-timers, go through a lot; we spend several months trying to learn basic things on how to conduct ourselves, committee procedures, the rules of the House and how Parliament works. At the same time, we are dealing with political pressure, public perception and pursuing things we started outside politics. But those challenges did not stop me from presenting my first Bill draft,” she says.

“If you are not careful, you get overwhelmed especially for the new legislators. You may even forget to fight for the things you believe in. The only reason I seem super active is because I always remind myself of how I hated the politicians who got a chance to be in the position of influence but did nothing.”

Konza Technopolis Bill

A few weeks after taking the oath of office, Ms Orwoba presented the Konza Technopolis Bill, which has undergone the First Reading, while her fellow first-term legislators were still getting the knack of Parliament.

The Bill seeks to give Konza a legal framework to operate. “Konza has been operating on a presidential directive through a Gazette notice; it has no legal framework,” she says.

“We have been trying to push investors to pump in billions into Konza to set up data centres among other businesses, but now who are they contracting? You can’t take a presidential directive to court – you have to transact business with a government, corporate, private entities or an individual. But right now, Konza does not fall in any of those categories.”

Data Protection Amendment Bill

She is also working on the Data Protection Amendment Bill, which seeks to safeguard Kenyans’ data by restricting storage within Kenya. It also seeks to ensure all data processors and handlers are registered under the Communications Authority and pay tax.

Currently, all social media companies are not registered as data processors and handlers in Kenya.

“We have been exporting our jobs to Europe, China and the United States. Each time one uses their phone, the data is stored in the cloud. The cloud is actually a physical data centre overseas,” she says.

“I worked at Facebook as a data centre manager in Denmark. I can confirm that a single data centre gives more than 1,000 direct jobs. If you store data in the cloud, you give other countries jobs that could have benefitted Kenyans if such data was stored within our borders.”

Swahili for Immigrants Bill

The State House Primary School alumna also wants – through Swahili for Immigrants Bill – to preserve Kenya’s history and culture by ensuring all foreigners interested in residing in Kenya, learn Kiswahili first.

“It is sad that foreigners come to Kenya, pay money and get residence. For instance, I’m married in Denmark, before I embark on paperwork for residence, I must learn their culture through a course, learn their language and pass the exam. I had to learn Danish despite the fact that I can’t use it outside Denmark,” she says.

“I have also lived in Sweden; you cannot have permission to settle there without undergoing a Swedish course for immigrants. My Bill proposes that when a foreigner comes to Kenya and wants to live here, they must do a basic Kiswahili course first, at the nearest Huduma Centre. This will give jobs to Kiswahili teachers.”

Election Act Amendment Bill

She is also pushing the Election Act Amendment Bill, which proposes that people eyeing political seats do a short course on the roles of the seats they are interested in.

According to her, that course should replace the degree requirement for presidential and gubernatorial candidates. It is Ms Orwoba who petitioned the court to annul the law that required aspirants for MP to have a degree before being cleared to vie.

“In fact, most legislators are in Parliament courtesy of me,” she says.

Ms Orwoba was in charge of President William Ruto’s election campaigns in Nyanza in the run-up to the last General Election.