Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps America’s most outspoken first lady did say that, women were like tea bags. That you wouldn’t know how strong they were until you put them in hot water. The testament that is that statement is the calmness that Hillary Clinton displayed at the hands of a bully during the US presidential debates. In a civilized society that takes pride in the fact that they are better than their history, it is rather surprising how much Kenyans belittle women, especially in politics but still maintain that we’re progressive.
This week Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel physically assaulted nominated MP Sarah Lekorere over difference of views. The irony is that it happened at the office of the interior Cabinet Secretary, who when contacted by the media dismissed it as something he can’t comment about when there are important security issues. If a female MP is not safe from a male MP at the Internal Security Office; surely what else could be more important? Explain that to that school girl with no body guards; who walks several kilometers to attend school and is likely to be raped and injured how woman battering is not an important security issue.
Anywhere in the world and especially in Africa where agriculture is the bread basket, it’s easy to see how women are the driving source of our livelihoods. But why do we have such little disregard for women that a debate between gubernatorial aspirants Miguna Miguna and Esther Passaris on important issues for Nairobi people would be watered down to jokes about a candidate who alleged rape or about her skin color and beauty contests among other silly things?
It’s now becoming fashionable to demean or even batter women in public. As if the treatment in private is not worse. Of interest also is how Kenyans hold women leaders and politicians to a higher moral ground than their male counterparts. Former Deputy Chief Justice, Nancy Baraza was hounded out of office for allegedly pinching the nose of a guard at a social joint in Nairobi. A tribunal was formed to investigate the matter and recommended her sacking. She later resigned. Needless to mention if this was the CJ; with all due respect to the retired CJ Mutunga, it may have played differently.
If that is too far-fetched, consider in 2013 Nairobi Governor Kidero allegedly slapped Nairobi Women Rep Shebesh after a heated verbal exchange that was later dubbed the gubernatorial slap. Kenyans made jokes about it; some leaders openly praising the governor for “taming” the woman rep. It doesn’t matter how wicked the words of the woman rep were-hitting a fellow leader and woman for that matter-being the weaker sex should be condemned in the strongest term. Otherwise it only serves to scare women leaders into useless submission and encourages actions such as that of Laikipia North MP.
A report by Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya shows that while only six women vied for gubernatorial position in 2013, none were elected. Another 17 women vied for the Senator Position and again, none were elected. Consequently 129 and 623 vied for MP and MCA positions respectively and only 16 and 91 were elected respectively. It is therefore not entirely true that women don’t vie for elective office. They do, but electorate’s patriarchy among other subtle barriers deny them opportunities.
The male chauvinism displayed by our media as was the case with the Jeff Koinange Live (JKL) show and institutions that appear to apply double standards considering the Baraza, Kidero outcomes are some of the biggest barriers for women with political aspirations.
Perhaps the electorate should be reminded the words of Britain’s former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher who said, “In politics, If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” For the last 50-plus years we’ve had male politicians dominate the scene and all we’ve heard is talk and more talk. It’s about time we put these words to the test. If someone can’t do anything in 50 years, why entrust another 5 years? Let’s change our backward traditional attitude towards women and embrace a civilized world for a better Kenya.
Lastly but not least, the media in Kenya should rid itself of editorials and programs that spell patriarchy. Our agencies and tribunals should also stop with the double standards when applying corrective measure. This will reduce the barriers women aspirants go through and encourage large participation. Indeed if we did this the debate about enforcing the two-thirds gender principle would be unnecessary.