Friday, April 29, 2016
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.