Monday, November 14, 2016

The Gender Principle and patriarchy


noun a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line; a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it; a society or community organized on patriarchal lines.
All three meanings of "patriarchy" apply to Kenya, by and large. To deny it is to deny that water is wet, i.e., futile. Knowing it and acknowledging it, however, are difficult things for Kenyan males because it would mean accepting the unfairness of it all and the need for cultural reforms for which many Kenyan men are wholly unprepared.

We made a creditable start in 2010 by endorsing at a referendum a very progressive constitution that decreed the equality of the sexes in marriage, childcare, property, employment and political office. Well, on the latter two, it attempted a deft balancing act and fell between two stools in shame and disappointment.

Known as the Two-thirds Gender Principle, the public service (and the private sector, according to a keener interpretation of Articles 2(4), 3(1), 10(2)(b), 19(2), 19(3(a), 20(2), 21(1) and 27) have an obligation to ensure that not more than two-thirds of the members of any elective or appointive position belong to the same gender. In Kenya, as in many nations, the physical manifestation of patriarchy is in the positions of authority that are held by men, which many women either do not, cannot or are discouraged from holding. Political offices and the corner suites of corporations are just the most obvious. Other insidious prohibitions are those that say women should not own land, should not inherit land from their parents, or the cultural, hetero-normative rules that declare that women are the ones primarily responsible for the care of infants and small children, that their exclusive domain is the kitchen or that their sexual agency is by the sufferance of the fathers, brothers, husbands or sons.

The Two-thirds Gender Principle was endorsed by a majority of voters; however, this is not the whole story. Had Kenyans been invited to vote, clause by clause, would the Two-thirds Gender Principle have survived? I am not so sure because despite its endorsement, together with the other bits and bobs of the Bill of Rights, Kenyans, in 2013, did not elect a single woman as a governor of a county and few raised their voices that the principle was being watered down in the appointment of Cabinet Secretaries or Principle Secretaries. Indeed, it is only in one county that a woman was elected as the Speaker (Nakuru). In appointments, while the governing bodies of state corporations attempted to implement the principle, the vast majority of chairpersons and CEOs remain men, appointed for political expediency more often than not.

We already know what needs to be done in order to contribute to the obliteration of patriarchy in both public and private spheres. Among the things that we must be do is to signal the seriousness with which we take affirmative action by appointing more women into more visible political and administrative positions in government and political parties and to ensure that more women are able to compete effectively against men for political offices. Some will call it tokenism, but sometimes tokenism has a way of overcoming its shortcomings and surprising us all. We've already made a step with the ratification of our constitution in 2010; we should deepen and strengthen its principles and widen the pool of women who should be elected or appointed to high office. More and more women need to be persuaded that it is OK to seek political and social power, that power is not just the preserve of their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons.

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