It is 2017. The world is bigger but smaller at the same time. Open but still closed in some areas. The world is bigger in the sense that there is more information and the UK is no longer 8 hours away for example. It is a second away, thanks to twitter. It is open in the sense that there is more information flow and perspective shifts that are informed by, among many other things, the interactions between different cultures.
But just how far have we gone in creating space for women at the leadership table? Wait, is it anybody’s responsibility to create space for women at the leadership table?
While we are better than we were 30 years ago for example when it comes to the issue of women in leadership, especially political leadership, we are not there yet. The truth is that there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to make the society in which we live fairer and better.
But why do we need women to take up leadership positions?
To avoid the risk of sounding like a broken record and to answer the question of isn’t a leader just a leader, must they be women, I will pen down some thoughts about why we need more women in office. In so doing, I hope that I will join scores of other voices in creating the awareness that women are just as capable and equally important on the decision-making table as their male counterparts.
- At the very base, it is a requirement of democracy
Kenya calls itself a democracy. One of the requirements of a democracy is that every sect of the communities within this democracy is listened to and fairly so. When we do not have enough women taking up parliamentary positions, isn’t this already an indictment of the democracy that we swear by? Having an equal ground upon which women who intend to compete for political office is crucial in ensuring that the democracy that we pride ourselves in does not just end at the theory level.
Soraya Chelamy a writer and activist whose work focuses on the role of gender in culture, politics, religion and media, writing in the Huffington Post on Women in Politics: Why We Need More Women in Office, argues that there’s the basic issue of the value of a representative democracy to citizens and [there is] pretending that we have one. And secondly, she argues, young girls cannot be what they can’t see — it’s a vicious circle; which brings me to the next point.
2.) Breaking down barriers
The fewer women take up leadership positions in politics, the less the younger women are convinced that a woman in political power is a normal thing. For example, with only three women winning the gubernatorial races in the just concluded 2017 elections (there was no female governor in the last government) these three women stand out as the exception, rather than the norm. In the coming days, media interviews will be hailing them as rare gems and asking how they managed to win against the men they competed against. This is telling of the scarcity of women leaders and in the long run, this cycle will become self-fulfilling where by few women get into power and then the generation that follows will have an equally low number of women getting into power or even lower because the idea of women becoming political leaders has not been demystified. And just like that, the steps that we have made as a society towards the emancipation of women will draw backwards.
Therefore, it is crucial that women get into public office as this is one of the ways through which more women will be encouraged to aspire to leadership.
3.) There are certain gender specific challenges that need women parliamentarians
I was willing to contend that women issues can be represented by anyone but experience has shown me that I might be wrong. Some of the issues that directly affect women include access to reproductive health services such as maternity, contraceptives, sexual violence against women and so on. The law is clear but further legislation is important. When new laws are tabled in parliament to protect women, I think it helps if we have a good number of women backing these laws. Women understand better the issues that women and children face, so shouldn’t they be at the table when decisions affecting them are being made.
The truth is that we live in a very patriarchal society and the interests of patriarchy will always come first. This state of affairs already greatly reduces the options that women have which means that if we do not have a good number of women in parliament, then women become greatly disadvantaged. Writer Chimamanda Adichie says that it is the nature of privilege to blind. And I think it could be that men who have been privileged by patriarchy and by power for too long might (naturally) fail to adequately represent issues that are innately feminine.
4.) We need women parliamentarians to increase diversity which could be just what we need to finally deal with the problems of this country
In this country, we like to talk about the tyranny of numbers. In my head, I am just thinking that perhaps this tyranny of men when it comes to the number of parliamentarians could be what is blocking us from the solutions that we seek.
The society today is experiencing complex problems that need more innovative and critical approaches which might just be lying silent in the women who are not taking up political office and putting their skills and leadership power into use. We need more women in parliament to diversify the voices and open our eyes to other dimensions of leadership that could help the society improve itself.
5.) Basically, women have an equal right to being in Parliament
See, by women failing to turn up and vie for leadership positions, then we fail to help ourselves and in a way, participate in the weakening of our own chances of attaining a world that is attentive to us, a world that knows our capabilities and in effect, a fairer world. Women need to step out there and be counted for their worth. In effect, this will also help in breaking barriers and opening up the world for young women.
FINAL SUBMISSION: Perhaps you are thinking that we have had few women in parliament in the past and they have not done much as they should. That is another debate because we have had so many men in parliament who have equally not helped us. This article is about the numbers – the ratio of gender representation in Parliament.
Featured image via www.the-star.co.ke.