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From Counting Women To Making Them Count

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From Counting Women To Making Them Count. Photo Courtesy

From Counting Women To Making Them Count

Before the women’s movement ushered in an era of renewed concern with the place of a woman in society, most people categorized them under the guardianship of their fathers and husbands. In most cases, women were depicted as “saddled” with home and domesticity while men were portrayed as enjoying the exhilaration of life in society.

It is certain that generalization on roles of women in traditional African societies is not easy to make because African culture is diverse. This means that one cultural belief from one community may differ from the other.

From Counting Women To Making Them Count. Photo Courtesy

In order to understand the roles of women in African society, it is important to acknowledge and learn the different cultural patterns within which they are brought up. In Kenya, for instance, most communities believed that a place of a woman is in the kitchen. Something which hindered most women to prosper politically, socially, and economically.

What you didn’t know about the Kalenjin community.

In regard to this, for a long time in the Kalenjin community, women were viewed as a man’s property.

The Kalenjin comprise a number of ethnic groups indigenous to East Africa, residing mainly in what was formerly the Rift Valley Province in Kenya. They include the Keiyo, Nandi, Marakwet, Sengwer, Pokot, Sebei, Okiek, Tugen, Kipsigis, Sabaot and Terik.

In the Nandi tribe, for instance, women were given the mandate to own three things in her compound. That is chicken, vegetables, and afternoon milk which were basically for household consumption. Men on the other hand would control cash crops, herds of cattle, plots of land, and all family inheritance.

From Counting Women To Making Them Count. Photo Courtesy

In instances where men would go for raiding or cattle rustling, women would remain at home, wait for them to come back so that they could cook, complement, massage, and sing beautiful songs for them.

They were not allowed to take part either in problem-solving, giving alternative solutions and opinions, community politics, or leadership. They were counted and categorized as children.

Women had no voice when it came to economic positions because men control vastly greater incomes. Women were not allowed to own plots of lands, herds of cattle, money among other valuables.

They were not allowed to go to school because they believed in early marriages. The moment a girl reaches adolescence, she would be married off to a man as long as he is able to pay the bride price.

Gender inequality was and is still practiced in the Kalenjin community and even in other communities in Kenya. It is certain that women’s development and leadership including political emancipation remains curtailed by cultural, social, and economic hurdles.

What’s the change?

However, things have changed. Gender activism organizations, feminist movements, and the 2010 Kenya constitution which created positions for women in parliament have contributed to women’s leadership in Kenya.

In recent times, in Kenya’s politics, women have come up to vie for different seats including presidential seats, gubernatorial seats, MPs, among others.

Although cultural prejudices are blamed for the failure of women to clinch political seats, it was peculiar that the Kalenjin community which traditionally equates women with children elected more female legislators in the 2007 elections.

Out of 15 elected female legislators in the 10th Parliament that is 2007 elections, seven were from Rift Valley Province.

From Counting Women To Making Them Count. Photo Courtesy

This has demystified the notion that women in Rift Valley are looked down upon. The election of women through competitive polls preceding tough campaigns was an indication that the region has come to respect and values women in leadership.

The Rift Valley was leading with seven elected female MPs, Nairobi and Eastern had three each, Central had two, Coast had one, while Nyanza and Western had none.

Even with the introduction of the special political positions of women representatives, women in Rift Valley still went for the jugular.

In the competitive parliamentary elections in 2013, Rift Valley still managed three positions through the late  Dr. Joyce Laboso from Sotik who was also the Deputy Speaker, Professor Hellen Sambili from Mogotio, and Grace Kipchoim from Baringo South.

The three were among 12 female MPs elected across the 290 constituencies in the country. They braved the competitive slot despite the provision of the county women representative position.

Strong and professional women have also served in senior government positions in the grand coalition government. They included Dr. Sally Kosgei who served in Higher Education and later Agriculture dockets.

Professor Hellen Sambili who served in the East Africa Community, Assistant Minister Linah Jebii Kilimo (Cooperatives), Beatrice Kones (Home Affairs) Peris Simam (Eldoret South), and Professor Margaret Kamar who served in Higher Education.

Gender equality is among the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal number 5(also known as global goals). It is not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

Global gender equality?

Women are more than mothers and wives in our society today. Just like mother hens provide education to their chicks, so do women in our society today. Do you know that hatched chicks can never drink water until they are taught by their mother?

A mother hen will press their beaks into the water to help them learn the drinking process. The chicks will fight among themselves but the mother will regulate and stop the behavior.

That is a trait of leadership only found in females. There is nothing wrong with having women in leadership positions. They should be given a chance to perform because education and exposure have changed women in the 21st Century.

All women can be great leaders given chance. Just like a mother hen who is protective of her chicks by gathering them under her wings, women can be trusted in management and protection.

From Counting Women To Making Them Count. Photo Courtesy

They have a sense of responsibility and are also brave. They are disciplined and free from corrupt practices because they have the interest of the people around them at heart, just like a mother would always have an interest in her children at heart.

In this era, women should not be viewed as “flower girls” just to be touched and admired but should also be seen as good enough to be leaders. We should shun away from traditions and beliefs that count women, instead, we should make women count in Africa.

Mercy Tyra Murengu
A multi-award-winning journalist accredited by the Media Council of Kenya.

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