The Honorable Shukran Hussein Gure ’M07 ’11, Garissa County women’s representative to the Kenya parliament, visited St. Catherine University’s Minneapolis campus last week, the first stop in a two-week visit to the United States.
For Gure, who obtained both an associate’s and an RN to BS degree in nursing from St. Catherine, visiting campus was like “coming home.”
“This place changed my life. The instructors were always available. And any problem that we had, anything we needed, we would come to Coventry in the multicultural office. She was there throughout my whole education at St. Kate’s,” she says.
Gure reconnected with faculty, classmates and staff in the Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) office, and toured the new facilities, including the nursing simulation lab and its brand new SimMom mannequin.
“St. Kate’s nursing program is about nurturing, about changing people’s lives — that nurturing, the ability to listen, the advocacy — all of this prepared me to do what I do today,” says Gure.
When Gure returned to Kenya in 2011 for vacation, she didn’t anticipate staying, let alone running for parliament. The Kenyan constitution underwent significant reform in 2010, which included requiring gender equity among elected officials.
There was an open seat for a women’s representative in Garissa County, where Gure is from originally. On the eastern border of Kenya, Garissa has an infant mortality twice the national average, and some of the worst education outcomes — particularly for girls. Gure felt compelled to act.
“Because I’m a nurse and with the advocacy I learned at St. Kate’s, I thought I could champion women’s agendas, I could make a difference if I got a chance to represent women,” said Gure, who won the election in March 2013.
Counties in Kenya are comparable in size to states in the United States, so geography plays one of many contributing factors in the high infant and maternal death rates. Just over half the size of Minnesota, Garissa County has only one hospital that offers surgical services, including c-sections for complicated childbirths. The county also has a poor infrastructure comprised of mostly dirt roads.
“There’s also a cultural barrier. Women like to have babies in the home. It’s only when they have complications that they decide to go to the hospital. But the roads are so poor that the mother or baby will die on the way to the hospital,” explains Gure.
She’s hoping to build support for a mobile maternity hospital that will more easily reach the remote areas of her county.
Garissa also has a shortage of primary and secondary schools that are girls-only.
“Our culture sometimes will hinder the father from taking his girl to school where there are boys,” says Gure.
While her government seat carries influence, her county has few resources. With proposals and blueprints in hand for the mobile clinic and girls’ school, Gure is traveling to connect with agencies and NGOs in the United States and other countries.
Gure is encouraged by Kenya’s commitment to gender equity in government, but firmly believes that things will change for women only when other women step forward.
“Women in Africa have been marginalized, their rights have been neglected. So as an elected official I will do everything I can to make a difference,” says Gure. “But there needs to be more women in the legislature worldwide, because helping a woman is helping her whole community. To change society, we as women need to advocate for each other.”