Sunday, December 11, 2011

We are all equal. Deal with it!

The public face of the Government of Kenya is overwhelmingly masculine; women tend to work in senior government management positions or as junior ministers. It is a similar picture in the private sector where many corporate boards are overwhelmingly male, and the ranks of CEOs are dominated by men, but women are relegated to management positions. The Two-thirds Rule in the Constitution that reserves a maximum of two-thirds of all elective and appointive positions in government to persons of one gender was, let us be frank, meant advance the progress of women, especially in government positions, especially in Parliament. The proposed Constitution (Amendment) Bill currently before the National Assembly is meant to resolve the mechanics of ensuring that the Two-thirds Rule is implemented in the most practicable way possible. President Kibaki, in 2006 ordered that the government implement a One-third Rule, reserving one-third of all appointments in government to women.

Ever since the government and civil society turned their attentions on the plight of the girl child, Kenya has made great progress id addressing gender disparity, especially in the provision of public services such as primary healthcare and education. More still needs to be done, but only the uncharitable will deny that there is, and there has been, progress in empowering women and girls. President Moi set this trend off with the establishment of girls' secondary schools across the country and the increasing allocation of resources to address their needs. Civil society organisations have not been left behind ether, with concerned persons taking an interest in eradicating practices that limit or deny young girls and women their rightful place in society. Witness the growth in the campaign against female genital mutilation, in the face of opposition from traditional community leaders ad such like persons.

In the context of the 2012 general elections the Two-thirds Rule debate has taken on a deeply partisan and polarising tone, with partisan groups seeing sinister motives in the proposed constitutional amendments and others seeing political advantage where none exist. But this battle only seems to be playing out in the battle between ODM and PNU or any of the clones it has spawned over the past two years. Outside of the political arena, and because of the overwhelming public attention on all matters political, the changes that have taken place in gender issues have been profound. More women are graduating from university with professional degrees than anytime in the past. More girls are enrolled in primary and secondary schools than at any time in the past. And more women are starting and operation income-generating activities and businesses than at any time in the past. Listening to the politicians, one would be mistaken for thinking that women are still living in the darker times of the colonial and post-colonial eras.

The changes are yet to be fully accepted in Kenya. There are still great pockets of resistance to women's empowerment, where the idea of well-educated and employed women is still anathema. Even within certain institutions the idea that women should be empowered is received with scant enthusiasm. Even the sight of female soldiers in combat in Somalia was not received with the same degree of enthusiasm as when our female athletes dominate on the international stage. The campaign to win hearts, minds and cultural foibles is still a work in progress and the presence of more women in professional employment, or in leadership positions in the private and public sectors will help to move the needle towards recognising that, regardless of the intransigence of a paternalistic society, women are an integral part of the community, not just as homemakers, but as political, business and cultural leaders. Their contributions, throughout history, have contributed to the advancement of mathematics, science and politics and they are and will always be the equal of men in any time and place.

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