Dec 13, 2011

Overcoming gender inequality in political leadership

Political analysts from different parts of the world agree that women have both a right and an obligation to active participation in political leadership. Studies in women and leadership have consistently shown that when women get into politics, they bring a different style and perspective of leadership. Even right here in Kenya, some impact has often been felt in instances where women have led.

The violent nature of Kenyan politics however has always hampered women from seeking political leadership. The few who hold political positions today have come a long way and none of them has had it easy. One of the reasons for this is off course the persistence of an extremely patriarchal political system Kenya has had since 1963.

The new constitution has however given Kenyan women a new momentum. They now feel ready to democratically take on their male counterparts for leadership positions in the public sector. Several organizations have been organizing forums and seminars to ensure the momentum continues into 2012 general elections and beyond.

Since the new constitution was promulgated in August 2010, a few women have been appointment to key public offices but this has not changed the statistics by any margin. According to a 2009 survey by the Ministry of Gender, only 30.9 per cent of those employed in the public service are women, 72 per cent of them are in the lower cadres. The same inequity exists in the judiciary, political parties, and political representation.

Women hold only about 10 per cent of the seats in the 10th Parliament. The situation would have been different if the country had necessitated a women friendly political environment like Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The trio now leads global statistics on women’s representation in elective politics at 56.3%, 31% and 30% respectively.

The provision of special seats for women in chapter seven of the new constitution will obviously increase women representation in parliament and county governments. The new constitution has also promised to create a friendly political environment in future elections. This should encourage women to seek elective posts as aggressively as their male counterparts even as they remain upbeat about the special seats.

The third African Women in Political Leadership Conference held in Nairobi on August this year endeavored to put the issue of women leadership into perspective. The conference was organized by the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). From their discussions, women seeking leadership were urged not to be motivated by the desire to dislodge men from politics.

The struggle for change will be futile if political campaigns are reduced to women versus men affair. This may trigger gender animosities which will deter citizens from focusing of the big picture of eradicating poverty. Women have succeeded in countries like Rwanda not on a gender platter but on transformational leadership and their motherly instincts they bring to the table.

Women must proof wrong skeptics who have perpetuated the notion that women forget the plight of their fellow women as soon as they occupy political positions. There have also been claims from various quotas that once women are in power, they succumb to stigma from men who ridicule and undermine them at the slightest mistake they make. While this may have been the case in the past, it should not be allowed in the new dispensation.

Even as women eagerly wait for 2012, it should be remembered that the gender equality evangelism is not an event but a continuous battle that has to be won at every point. This is the critical time that those in leadership should help strengthen the capacity of women by institutionalizing the gender policy. Working closely with commissions on gender equality and using monitoring and evaluation mechanisms will be an essential weapon.