Connect with us

General News

Women should reject tokenism, demand what belongs to them



More by this Author

Recent events and debates inside and outside the National Assembly regarding the fulfilment of the two-thirds constitutional gender requirement have once again proved that in all political arrangements and contestations, power is taken, not given.

It goes without saying that Kenya, like most of the world, remains a highly patriarchal society where societal systems and structures – be they cultural, religious, political and even economic – naturally favour men, putting women in a situation where they have to work almost twice as hard as men for them to even be heard, leave alone have access to certain opportunities, some of which come easily to their male counterparts.

In fact, there remains areas in society where women aren’t allowed to serve – like the priesthood – and little may change anytime in the near future.

In the African context, much as there exists matriarchal societies where women are the traditional heads of the family, for the most part, women are considered second-tier citizens, still not entitled to an inheritance in most instances despite the existence of legal regimes supporting their right to property.

Of course over time, painful and slow progress has been made to bridge the gender gap as societies realised they can no longer do business as usual.

But despite this, there still remains a long way to go before anyone can sit pretty and celebrate equality between the two genders.

The absurdity of the whole situation is that in most societies, women make up half or more of the population, making one wonder why one half of a society’s population should be treated as lesser beings.

Coming back to Kenya, it is evident that women, who by all means have a legitimate claim in demanding their fair share in leadership on the moral and legal fronts, have once again been taken on a wild goose chase, being given mixed signals by the powers that be – especially by party leaders of parliamentary parties – as to whether the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018, which sought to provide a legislative framework to ensure no single gender occupies more than two-thirds of parliamentary slots, would be supported to pass through the House.

Recent history has shown that when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opposition counterpart Raila Odinga wish to jointly push anything through Parliament, they have always succeeded, whether by hook or crook. They have previously whipped members of their parties into supporting all manner of bills, and whenever such campaigns didn’t show promise thanks to MPs rebelling, they have then resorted to near arm-twisting antics, and have had their way in the end.

Of course Parliament needs to operate independently without external influence and interference, but the point to be made is that the actions or inaction of both Uhuru and Raila in this regard – in their failure or reluctance to marshal their troops through their respective Parliamentary Group caucuses – points to either their lack of commitment or enthusiasm in supporting the political empowerment of Kenyan women.

The fundamental question – especially raised by critics of the bill – is the sort of propositions the piece of legislation put forward.

There has been passionate debate on the suitability of the need to increase parliamentary seats so as to accommodate more women, an idea that has been shot down by cries for the need to bring down the wage bill.

Those who support the proposal argue that compared with overall government expenditure, this will not be too much to ask for.

As things stand, it appears no matter how many times the bill will be reintroduced in the House, whether with new propositions or not – this having been the second attempt to pass it – there will remain serious opposition towards it, informed by a complex mixture of factors, including myths, stereotypes and the application of double standards against women.

A number of male MPs claimed they wouldn’t support the bill because their constituents didn’t believe women needed to be granted an easy ride to power – that they needed to compete just like their male counterparts – while others derided the whole effort by invoking the condescending argument that the extra slots would be used to reward girlfriends and the likes.

At this juncture, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel, Kenyan women must resort to realpolitik, with the understanding that power respects power in the same way capital respects capital.

With their numbers, and with a sizeable group of them in strategic leadership positions, including governors, they must light fires under the bellies of their political parties, to make the point that they are not seeking tokenism, but are in fact demanding what it rightfully theirs.