We judge the effectiveness or admirability of women in politics by their ability to withstand oppression, suffering and violence meted out by society.
We tell women to look up to Wangari Mathai and use her as an example of women who didn’t have power handed to them on a silver platter but instead fought for it. We have glorified struggle as a necessity for change and have used it as a reason to maintain the status quo and normalize the oppression of women as a part of society. We use examples of icons like Wangari Maathai to speak out against affirmative action. She would be ashamed.
In the light of increased women in spheres of public influence both in public service and in the corporate world, we are deluded to think that gender equity has been achieved. We are not even close. There several structural and systemic factors that ensure that women are not at the same level as men when competing for the same positions and perhaps if we understood them a bit more then we can recognize our own privilege and work towards rectifying the situation. To do this, we have to recognize women as people deserving of dignity beyond their roles relative to men, as mothers, grandmothers wives, aunts and daughters.
There are endless different reasons, in my opinion, work towards sustaining the imbalance of power.
1. Party Patriarchy
Political parties are microcosm of society as a whole and party structures are representative of the inequality of power that exists. Women do not have a voice in political parties and the number of women in the initial nomination positions are pretty low. I would suggest amendments to the law to have the two third’s rule implemented from the nomination stage as one of the affirmative action strategies to push for gender balance. This seeps over into parliament and the Senate where women are given token positions in less consequential committees and even in those committees, they have little to no power. We don’t have a single elected female Senator in Kenya and nominated Senators don’t have voting rights meaning that even the few nominated ones are there to fill up a quota. I would suggest amendments to give nominated Senators voting rights
Media coverage of women is steeped in tropes of the male gaze as a standard and focuses primarily on personality, appeance, dressing, personal life especially regarding married life or sexuality and the difference is glaring. We have had male MP’s accused of rape, drug trafficking, theft, murder,extortion, bribery, economic plundering but one allegation against a woman for anything whether substantiated or not will go on for months. When allegation on the NYS heist (791M)emerged, Waiguru was on the news for six months when a typical news cycle lasts for two weeks. At the same time, the Ministry of Interior, under Nkaiserry lost about 3Bn. That story didn’t last more than a few days and we don’t associate Nkaiserry with corruption. We leave the morality and ethics cards exclusively for women. The gendered coverage has several effects including discouraging us from voting for women, discouraging us from contributing to women’s campaigns, perpetuating stereotypes about women and dissuading women from entering politics. It’s the reason we use Milly Odhiambo as a reason why we shouldn’t vote for women.
3. Access to resources
In a society making slow gains in achieving gender parity, we still have men as main decision holders when it comes to access to resources. Even in societies where women are the breadwinners including many parts of my beloved Nyeri, the final word still remains with the men. Every harvest season, there’s always a few stories of men who have been robbed of hundreds of thousands of shillings in bars or by prostitutes/ bar maids or had a 3-day drinking spree. Men decide where the money goes in spite of who made the money. Women forms chamas to save and to invest but a lot of the time, family money becomes the man’s decision. I don’t care if she is the CEO as long as when she comes home, she is my wife- Kenyan Men’s Anthem, stanza 2 , line 3. Women are still fighting for inheritance in our modern day cultures where we still believe that since she is married and will get land from her father in law then she should leave the rest to the men. Women still earn significantly less in the workplace for the same job. Yes there are women who earn tidy sums of money where you work and in the organisations that you work in but those are the exceptions-discriminative pay is the rule.
4. Historical representation and women’s movements
Pre-1992, there were only 3 main’s women’s groups that were allowed to operate and they operated within the strict confines of the government’s control: Maendeleo ya Wanawake National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) and the Nairobi Business and Professional Women’s organization. They had to stick to matters of welfare, promoting the role of women in various capacities and grassroots organization of women. FIDA (Federation of Internal Disorder Affairs) made great strides in defending their rights and it was a force to reckon with in its heyday but there’s been a steady decline in vocal and outspoken women’s groups which speak out for the rights of women and who would be a collective voice which would be much stronger. This is interesting considering the growth of Kenyan feminism and the strengthening of smaller movements increasing their social and online voices. I feel like there’s a lot of segmentation, a lot of the time being because of the fights for funding for NGO’s which needs the groups to compete for funding.
Women are disproportionately affected by violence during elections. This thread by Sheaffer Okore, describes last week’s Gubertanorial debate and the toxic and violent environment that existed and why women’s voices weren’t heard.(https://twitter.com/scheafferoo/status/882176593925255168) My favourite quote from her there was ,
“It’s worrying that people don’t see that men’s abrasive and “acceptable” violent behaviour is the reason women aren’t seen or heard”
It’s honestly not a way I have looked at situations and so I try and learn day by day. Esther Passaris was roughed up a few weeks ago when she went to speak at University of Nairobi. She was barricaded in, had her body guards roguhed up and had to have the police extricate her from the situation because she didn’t have the 150,000 ‘ransom’ that they required. Ukweli party, Kileleshwa MCA aspirant, Samanthah Maina had a thread (https://twitter.com/samantha_main…/status/877769239137996800) on the lack of safety as a woman when campaigning door to door. It’s a real eye-opener. I wouldn’t want any woman dear to me going door-to-door because of the high chances they would have of being raped, verbally abused, physically abused, sexually harassed and this is why we don’t want the ladies closest to us, going out late or coming home alone. We acknowledge the danger they face, only because of their proximity to us but this is a problem facing women everywhere.Joseph Nkaiserry 3 weeks ago Tweeted “ You’ve entered a male territory so you must fight. Assert yourself, hapana tu kusema tunapigwa, pigana pia. Politics isn’t for the faint hearted.” After the fallout he deleted the Tweet and held a grand meeting with female political candidates but this the Cabinet Secretary,Interior, ladies and gentlemen. This is the man supposed to protect you.
This is also, my view so feel free to add on to this, refute or comment respectfully. This is not an online wrestling ring. This is a space for growth and learning.
Side note: the number of Women in Politics Forums are competing closely with Creative Entrepreneurship Forums for top spots.