Sunday, March 31, 2013

Let the women prevail.

All politics is local. It is local issues that should now shape political discourse. That no woman was elected governor is an indictment of a culture that favours premogeniture over all else. Was there no woman in a position to be accorded the privilege of showing that women, too, are a political force to be reckoned with. Even at the national level, Martha Karua's presidential candidature came a cropper. The tens of millions she must have spent, perhaps even a billion or two, seems such a waste. Why did women perform so dismally at the hustings on The Fourth?

Culture, it seems, is not keeping pace with the Second Liberation reforms. Women must perform twice as well to be taken seriously by Kenyan voters. In the week leading to the Supreme Court's decision on the election of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, the name on everyone's lips was that of Kethi Kilonzo. It is not just her parents who are proud of her; Kenyans were unanimous that her performance before the Mutunga Court is the stuff that legend is built on. She may have her fifteen minutes, but we all hope and pray that she is the face of the future. Women must and shall stand at the head of many institutions. It is just a matter of time that their place in the national psyche will no longer be at the forbearance of old men in smoke-filled backrooms, but a matter of course that elicits little, if any, comment.

The Second Liberation gains and and the women rights movement are now intertwined; we cannot have the one without the other. But these two reforms are being threatened by bad habits from the past. Now while we may appreciate the place of the likes of Zipporah Kittony in the Second Liberation and women movement discourse, their recycling at the top of naitonal politics is an indictment of the thinking of the men in charge of our collective national destiny. While many able-bodied, intelligent and charismatic leaders are forging ahead - like Gladys Boss Shollei at the Supreme Court, Catherine Mumma at the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, Kethi Kilonzo in the legal profession, Julie Gichuru in the media, Nasim Devji in banking, and Carol Radull in sports broadcasting - it beggars belief that Kenya is still held in thrall to tired women who have done precious little for the advancement of the idea of women in power. They became caricatures and they held back the women movement by simply refusing to accept that they were part of something greater than their ambitions.

If all politics is local then it is at the local level that women must begin making their mark. So they were not elected to positions of power. But they still have the opportunity to show how far we have come when many of them will make their debuts in power politics when they are appointed to County Executive Committees and the management boards of cities and urban areas under Kenya's brand-new devolved structure. They have a chance to build a reputation for hard-core politicking at the grassroots. Perhaps when they do, Kenyans may not have to do with the traditional tokenism associated with the likes of Esther Passaris or Rachel Shebesh that has done so much to set back the cause of women over the decade of Mwai Kibaki's reign. Ms Kilonzo and many in her mould are the generation of women leaders and opinion-makers who will lead this country out of the shackles of their cultures and gender stereotypes. Let us hope they prevail.

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