THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT IN THE REPRESSED FEMININE
"Political social and policy context today perpetuates inequality and oppression of women" Women should not beg for equality we should raise up our voices! Women should move from self help to networking and joint activism. (By Teresa Yates tweets @TeresaYates10, key message in opening speaker at the Gender Festival August 2013)
I count myself among the majority in the population in Kenya as women outnumber the men. Unfortunately, we are the repressed minority in both the political arena and in key positions within government and public offices. Politics has been more exclusively limited to men than any other realm of endeavor (Wendy Brown, 1988). In East Africa, Kenya is still struggling to attain gender equality in politics. Data from global gender gap report (2012) showed Kenya ranked 72, Tanzania 46, Uganda 28, Burundi 24 and Rwanda 1, with 56.3%.
This situation is not different in the 2013 Kenyan general election. Only 5.3% of women were elected as members of parliament. This is from 9.80% of women in parliament in the 2007 general election and a paltry 3.8% in the 2002. To add salt to injury, no woman was elected as a governor or a senator in the 2013 general election in Kenya!
The new 2010 constitution of Kenya has begun to implement the demands for gender equity – at least rhetorically! Articles 27(8) and 81(b)) of the constitution guarantee women a minimum of one-third of elected and appointed posts in government. This has enabled women to hold special seats. The “special seats” are referred to as the seat of women representative in all the 47 Counties. Nevertheless, the position “special seat” has been misused by many male aspirants to brain wash voters and curtails women from competing in other positions. For example, males use the argument that women have no basis for competing in other positions when they had their own special position. Sadly, that is not the essence of the affirmative action pronounced in the constitution. Civic education must be done intensely at the grassroots to demystify women leadership exacerbated by the patriarchal view on women and misinterpretation of the constitution.
The divide between the women new comers and the old women guards is huge. A divide also exists between nominated women leaders and elected women leaders, with the latter feeling that nominated members do not understand the true challenges of elective leadership for women. According to one feminist and blogger Bernadette Muyomi, the young women are suffocated, sidelined and ignored in leadership. A feminine mentorship agenda must be promoted to build bridges between these two groups. In doing so, they pave the way for new generations to enjoy true and sustainable leadership and equality.
Women who have the strength to compete with men in politics and other mainstream professionalized workforce are viewed as being ‘unruly’, because they have broken the societal norms that relegate women to more docile professions and activities. Also, women are curtailed by financial and other resources constraints. Women political aspirants should make intense use of the social media like tweeter and facebook to bring forth their manifestos.
Other dynamics that make it difficult for women to participate meaningfully in competitive politics in Kenya are gender stereotypes, threats of violence and actual violence in pursuant of political seats. In addition, the media has unfair coverage for women as compared to men. The sexualized and feminized nature of coverage for women leaders as compared to male counterparts impacts on the attitudes of voters, either consciously or unconsciously.
Women's networks must remain resilient in order to alter the status quo. The National Women’s Charter, developed by a coalition of Kenya women’s organizations, should be taken a higher notch, which can be transformed into an influential force. This is similar to the practice conducted by the South African ANC Women’s League that skillfully and successfully used its National Women’s Charter to achieve one of the best engendered constitutions. It goes without saying that, putting women into positions of power in public life is imperative as no society can realize meaningful development without women. Women are cornerstones to development and their strength must be harnessed to achieve a quantum leap!
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.