Women Day with Little to Celebrate

The International women’s day celebrations have been marked by women globally since the early 1900s. The day seeks to celebrate notable social, economical, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also seeks to increase awareness and participation of women in leadership and also rally for the acceleration of gender parity.

In the international scene women seem to be successful in their pursuit for leadership but Kenya has a long way to go. Though Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency it was refreshing to see her represent a major political party for one of the most powerful and highly coveted positions in the world.  Then there’s Britain’s Theresa May who successfully took over from David Cameron to become the second female Prime Minister.

But closer home it is hard to place a finger on where the problem lies. Out of the 47 elected governors, none of them is a woman and only nine of the deputy governors are women. As if that isn’t telling enough, out of the 47 senators yet again there’s no woman represented. This however, is not without a spirited attempt from the women folk to pursue these opportunities. Women are rising up and seeking out opportunities and pursuing leadership, but there seems to be little to no political goodwill to support their bid.

This harsh accusation of the political class is not without basis. A couple of weeks ago, the boycotting of session by senators during the tabling of the bill that aims to increase women representation sent a loud message to the women aspirants. Confident of their political experience, connections and vast resources, the senators seemed to have dared women to fight it out for their positions. Regardless of the tyranny of numbers advantage that women possess, the political class seems confident that their positions are spoken for.

Surprisingly, their confidence is not without logic. Conspicuously missing in parliament during the session was a cross section of the female nominated senators who could have possibly changed the course of history that day. Many times the argument has been made that women are their own worst enemies; that they fail to support their own; that the census numbers indicate that they do not need positions to be handed out to them and that if women wanted female leaders, there would be enough female leaders.

While all that is true, it is also very true that women aspirants have certain limitations that tilt the win in favor of their male counterparts. Cultural conditioning has led many to be suspicious of a woman in leadership. We trust women with the most important responsibilities of raising families and influencing future generations but it becomes a different ball game when it comes to public leadership.

Female aspirants especially political newcomers are vulnerable of attack on their virtue, their reputations and to some extremes they even face physical attack.  And yes, they may be the weaker sex in that they may be unable to adequately defend themselves, to fight for their right to participate in elective governance but that does not take away their ability to lead.

Why is it important for equal gender representation? Well, that Kenyans have been complaining about service delivery to the counties is no secret. Women are the most affected group of people when it comes to poor service delivery. Half their domestic duties are paralyzed due to water shortage. A woman, even the healthiest among them, will visit a hospital at least once in her life, if for nothing else but to give life.  Who then is best placed to represent the communities if not a woman? Who would give a passionate account of challenges that marginalized communities go through if not a woman?

It is therefore important for the political parties and their leadership to answer the call to action and support women who are brave enough to present themselves for the service of their nation. It is also important for the electorate to support capable women aspirants in the forth coming election and then maybe next year the Kenyan women folk will have plenty to celebrate.

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Women in the Red

Dare to Lead, Change the World!

Veronica Longole was brought up in West Pokot county. The communities found in the county can be described as ‘marginalized’ and owing to this, they have had to get through life with little to no support from government.  As a result of this, the area has been prone to unrest as the mostly pastoral communities fight for the meager resources available.

Longole is one of the beneficiaries of women and Girls Lead Kenya, an organization that uses media to inspire women to seek political positions. After watching an ITVS produced film titled ‘Pray the devil back to Hell’, Longole was angered by the plight of Liberian women during the 2003 civil war as she felt that Pokot women could relate to the experience of these women in West Africa. This led her to seek the position of Member of  County Assembly (MCA) for Tapath Ward with the aim of driving the development agenda in the county.

Longole believes that women in Africa have been led to believe that they are the weaker sex.  As a result women have had to settle for less. They have had to resign to just being the woman behind the successful man. However history informs that when women dare to step out of the shadows, they are capable of shifting the course of history.

One woman exemplifies this in her efforts to mobilize women to compel warring factions in Liberia to sit at the negotiating table and end the raging war in Liberia. Leymah Roberta Gbowee got tired of women and children suffering on account of a war that was being perpetuated by their male counterparts.

leymah

Leymah Roberta Gbowee of Liberia

The evils that occur in times of war are mostly meted out to women and children. In her speech while accepting her Nobel peace prize, Leymah described the women in Liberia during the 2003 civil war as toys of war for over drugged young militias. Having had enough the women of Liberia registered a group that consisted of christian and Muslim women aimed at ending the war.

The women were able to compel President Charles Taylor to attend the peace talks in Ghana. The women did not just trust the process in the hands of the men who represented the restless civilians, they accompanied them to Ghana to ensure that they keep the interest of the country central to the talks.

The women observed that the two (male dominated) groups were only interested in the goodies that they stand to gain from the discussions. They would share out leadership positions instead of charting the way for peace to be restored in Liberia. Following this observation, the women used their bodies to barricade the exits of the board room to keep them in the room until they came to a consensus.

As the General Election in Kenya draws near may the story of these daring women inspire Kenyan women to stand up, to speak up and to dare to lead.