Equality for women. This was the resounding message that was sent out to the world as women celebrated yet another international women’s day.
The call for equality and inclusion has been made for decades but it is perhaps the slow pace its attainment has taken that has warranted these renewed efforts to see it come to fruition for the gender that accounts for more than half of the Kenyan population. These calls for equality have been echoed by actors in the political, social and corporate spaces.
So why have the scales on representation remained unbalanced even when women continue to make tremendous contributions in various sectors?
As pointed out in the three-day People Dialogue Festival, that preceded the International Women Day, the political goodwill to actualize equal representation of both genders has been lacking. Article 81 (b) of the Constitution provides, “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” It is on this backdrop that Parliament has come under fire over its unconstitutionality.
In a study we conducted last year, the representation of women in the current Parliament stands at 22%. Despite being the highest representation the country has recorded; Kenya still falls behind on the average 24% women representation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Several attempts by members from both Houses of Parliament to amend the Constitution have been shot down. The Executive on the other hand still has a long way to go with its appointments that have largely favoured men and political cronies.
This being the case, one would wonder whether there is a shortage of qualified women who can head ministerial and ambassadorial jobs or those who can be fielded by political parties for elective positions? It certainly isn’t true. Kenyan women have come a long way in their education. They are at par with their male counterparts if not ahead of them and have proven to be just as good if their innovativeness is anything to go by.
Unfortunately, leadership in our country has less to do with merit and capabilities and focuses more on things that don’t matter. Women especially are subjected to higher and intrusive standards to be considered worthy of leadership. Upon expressing interest to run for an elective position, a woman is bound to have her life put under a microscope and picked apart like vultures would on prey. Women have to fight through financial barriers, electoral violence, gender biases, media stereotyping and what not to make it past the post. The bar for the men, however, is quite low making it easy for them to breeze through the process.
That being said, women leaders (seasoned and young) during the People Dialogue Festival had one message to other women, be not afraid to take up spaces.
“Let’s not soft-pedal here. Leadership is never given. Inanyakuliwa (it’s grabbed),” said Narc-Kenya’s Chair, Martha Karua while addressing the crowd during a panel discussion. Being ‘nice’ isn’t likely to solve the issue of lack of political goodwill and bad attitude towards women leadership. Women are now being encouraged to kick down doors, to be louder and to demand more. Women are being encouraged to be fearless when they make the bold move of stepping in the line of fire.
Inclusion under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) talks about leaving no one behind. Failure to attain equality and inclusion for Kenyan women would be a message to over 50% of the population that, women are less Kenyan. Let’s not allow that to be the case.