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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Just thinking loudly: 2/3 gender rule

Why affirmative action? (Gosh its 2016 but we still ask). So why gender affirmative action? That has been the debate in Kenya more so in the last three days with all sorts of “social media” experts.
I had vowed not to engage on the 2/3 gender rule debate in Kenya because some of ignorant comments are just too much for a sane mind. When you have been working on these issues for many years sometimes it is hard to just get why people don’t get it. And it is tiring. I will not go to parliament let me go to the village. I will just give this example.
Some years back together with Hon Adelina Mwau and Nzungi we were working on some water project that would bring the much needed water closer to the people. Note: In our culture who fetches water? Who suffers when there is no water?
We were working with the project in that community in consultation with the leaders. (By leaders I mean the current leaders take precedence – chief, village elders, etc etc – read male). We made it clear that there needed to be gender representation in the committees’ membership etc. Why? Because when the water committee or other committees are formed in the village the heads of household (read men) represent the house while women are left taking care of whatever else in the homestead. Be honest, that is the norm, that is what we see every day. It is what is expected. It is what is normal, respectable etc, etc. show me a home where the man will be left in the house and woman goes to represent the household, the village gossip will never end. (Kukaliwa chapatti.)
While we made the information clear of course it was not easy to get this working in the community. So we had to INSIST.  Eventually some more names were put in as members of committee. There were not many literate women to put in committee. (*illiteracy- historical injustice).  Also  It was time to visit the community for one of the many meetings and by then we knew we are on the same page, there has to be females and males in the meeting. It is over ten years ago but I still remember women sitting some place aside and men “at the table”. Culturally acceptable. No worries.
We started discussing the issues around this. A lot had been written on the processes of the project but we had to ‘interfere’ in seeking the opinions of women. I still recall some major discrepancies between what was written and what women wanted. For one, men had under estimated the amount of water required in the household hence even the amount suggested for buying was not fair.  I recall women actually laughing like “what? That for clothes, dishes, drinking, bathing, cow…”.   To cut the long story short, a lot of issues had been assumed, the men did not do this intentionally in fact they very much wanted their women and girls to stop going for many kilometres to look for water. Their heart was in the right place. But they did not know. They did not details on what water is required in the house among other ‘minor’ details that made a big difference in the project. If the consultation with women had not happened the project would not have served the intended population well enough. Many women and girls would still have left the project to go to the river miles away.
No: the playing field is not level for women and men
No: women are no better leaders, individual women and men are good or bad leaders
No: women need not be perfect, as we have corrupt men in power we can have corrupt women in power, it does not make them worse because they are women,
No: we should not have different standards for measuring men and women’s achievements. I am just hearing “what have nominated women done” and I am wondering “what have elected men done?”  I don’t know. I don’t know what WOMEN HAVE DONE, but I know what Hon. Denitah is doing, what  Hon. Wangari is doing (need I mentioned they are women??) among others.
No: women will never get equal vote despite their efforts and capability in the current cultural setting, not in many years to come.
Yes: it is hard enough for a woman to get a leadership role in the village let alone in more public spaces.
 YES we need affirmative action. There are so many hurdles to women participating in political leadership and capacity is not one of them.  

Saturday, January 02, 2016

So what is really NEW?

As we ‘jumped’ the year and bid goodbye to 2015, I kept thinking, so what is new? Yes, we are crossing to 2016, but so what, what is NEW? Or have I become a pessimist? I started seeing ‘new year’ messages as early as 20th day of December 2015. I wondered if people are more optimists or taking much for granted, I mean some people died at 11.59pm on Dec 31.  I then started wondering why Christmas messages have to be tied with New Year; “Merry Christmas and a happy New year”.  May be it is the optimism that one will see a new year, and the anticipation. 12 months is a long period, and hence the much hullabaloo about a new year more than a new day or a new month. I saw comments on people getting quite annoyed at ‘happy new month’ comments…may be we may as well stick with New Year! At least a year is an assurance that you will have (or celebrate) a birthday, even those born on February 29. By the way how do you count your birthday when there is no leap year?

A new year is a time to look back on a year that has passed and forward to another year. We all start the year with optimism and believe that it will be a better year. Looking back in 2015, I reflect on which were my “moments” in the year for life is made of moments. It was an interesting year for me as I was back on my feet after being immobile from ankle fracture from August 2014. It really feels nice when you can wake up and go where you want at your own free will not waiting for someone to ferry you. I had never thought this as an issue, until I could no longer do it. I can only praise God for good health and the blessings that I barely notice.

One of the greatest milestones I made in 2015 was to move house. Yes move house!  Like move house and locality. That was a big deal for me because I hate moving! I had avoided moving houses despite several attempts where I concluded “not good enough house”. I had enough reasons to contemplate moving since mid-2014 but I needed “time”. A first I could not move since I was working in South Sudan, the neighborhood was quite safe so I comfortably left my house for three months without any incidence. “I will move when I am back in Kenya” I concluded.

In October, I got a job in Kenya so now that was no longer an issue. I was back in Kenya…but still… It was a process, thinking and rethinking then waiting for a more opportune moment. At last I concluded I will move when my ankle was fully healed! My neighborhood had become congested with time and Thika road traffic was not letting up despite having persevered for 10 years (in the same house!).  One day I woke up and could not leave the parking for about 45 minutes as my car had been blocked by an arrogant neighbor who did not appreciate being woken up from his beauty sleep!  With recuperating ankle, just barely out of crutches public transport was not an option for me as I would have had to change vehicles and walk. That was not viable. By then I was driving with some pain so I also needed to leave house and office before traffic snarl. I was late to work. I got caught up in traffic so driving became a hard task. That day I made up my mind to move. I contacted some agency and the following day accompanied by a friend I went hunting for a house, identified one that I immediately liked, met with landlord the same evening and planed my move in a week’s time! Just like that.

That experience with parking was God-sent. It catapulted me to make a decision and pursue it. I am very glad I did. There are many moments in life when I am hesitant to make a leap, to change, to make a decision to pursue a goal as uncertainty keeps me away.  I end up stuck on the same spot or not reaching for higher goal. Sometimes I have had the jerking moment that throws me off balance and force me to make a decision.

My desire this year is that I will jump and take a leap sooner and dare to reach out before I am thrown off the cliff to act. I pray that, this is what will be NEW for me this year. This year is definitely a very special one for me!

Happy 2016.