Thursday, June 08, 2017

Treat him with contempt

Ever since that morning almost a decade ago when Maina and King'ang'i in the Morning decided to make light of the living conditions of Kenyans living in Muthurwa, I have always treated the pair, Maina and King'ang'i, with the contempt that they deserve. Their morning show is popular and no one should begrudge them their loyal following that has made them rich men. The content of their morning show is the price we pay for the freedom of expression protected in the Bill of Rights. However, even if their speech is protected, it still behooves us to call them out whenever they cross the line. Mr Kageni crossed the line with his skit about him looking forward to offering himself as a candidate for the office of woman representative on the 8th August.

It isn't that his joke turned on the fact that he had registered a "pink" party to advance his political ambition or that the symbol of his party was the kind of weave that women wear. No, the reason why his skit was offensive is that in order for its punchline to work, Mr Kageni adopted the offensive language that men have relied on since time immemorial to put down the advancement and achievements of women. His put-downs need not be repeated on this platform.

When the 1985 UN women's conference was held in Nairobi, women still could not obtain documents of identity without the permission of their fathers or husbands, women in the public service could not wear pant suits unless they wished to face disciplinary action nor were they paid a housing allowance if they were married, a situation corrected only in 1999! It wasn't until 1989 that they could be employed on permanent and pensionable terms by the public service.

Since 1985 women have advanced at a pace that, in hindsight, is astonishing. Their advancement, of course, has not been uniform or universal. In Kenya, women's contributions, to the economy for example, have been erased from the narrative of national development. Part of this erasure is because of the extremely low level of women's participation in national development decision-making, such as equitable representation in institutions of governance such as parliament, the Cabinet or the financial services sector in decision-making positions or other positions of political and economic power. Mr Kageni's skit refuses to acknowledge this undesirable dynamic and instead makes light of it by declaring that the present woman leadership class has failed in its responsibilities, especially [to the women of Kenya.

We made a conscious decision to give the women of Kenya a chance to take their rightful place in the national government by reserving elective positions exclusively for them. The Constitution reserves the forty-seven woman representative offices for women. These offices are constitutionally unavailable to men, even the men who purport to speak for the legions of women who call into their radio shows in the morning. It is not a joking matter. Any man who is unable to take history into account when he utters statements that are likely to receive varied and variegated interpretations is no better than the violent husband, the cheating boyfriend or the misogynist banker who will not advance a loan to a woman, married or not. Like I said, he should be treated with contempt.

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