Could it be that Kenya will cease to be a male dominated society? Shall women ever compete effectively against men in Kenya? Shall a sex scandal ever ruin a man’s career in Kenya? Shall we ever have a woman elected president by a universal adult suffrage and command respect and confidence from the populace? When?
The answer could never be “now” and hardly “soon”. The status of women in Kenya will not be revolutionized. It will evolve. Already the final bell tolls on male chauvinism in Kenya are flagging. But they are more the start of a war; of women fighting to liberate themselves.
Many attempts made by women to liberate themselves and their folk begin from the wrong premise; that men intentionally look down upon them. They conceive men as members of some form of “chauvinism lodges” where popular attitudes towards women are formulated and strategy is laid for their perpetual suppression.
The woes of women in Kenya, and generally in the world, are borne of tradition. Every society in the world has a tradition, past or present, of male chauvinism. Early societies were organized on the basis where men owned all the means of production and thus held the livelihood of the women folk in their hands.
Women therefore had to sub serve men in order to secure their livelihood. As societies develop and sophistication is enhanced, the women begin to slowly ascend into status. Gradually, they attain the ability to cater for themselves and their children. With time, they can stand up against men without jeopardy on their part. This encourages them towards self-realization and marks the beginning of their liberation.
The process of liberation does not end there. Women have then to get men to change their attitudes. They have to normalize the situation from one of absurdity to one of reality. They have to file away those edges of skepticism that are all over the male. The Kenyan society is just thirty years since the traditional African society. The status of the woman is as yet unfavorable and many cannot stand up against men without jeopardy on their part. Their first task, therefore, is to secure for themselves, generally and individually, economic independence.
Economic liberation is the mainstay of the liberation of women. So long as women remain economically dependent on men, they cannot stand up against them. Their livelihood is so tied up to the whim and caprice of the men that they must submit. It is on economic dependency that polygamy and the cruelest forms of male chauvinism thrive.
Women leaders should begin by instilling in every woman the spirit to fight for economic liberation. Every woman must first stand on her own feet before women liberation can be meaningful. And the women’s liberation movement has a problem here. The Kenyan woman still labors under a psychology of subservience.
This psychology is also borne of tradition. Women have never had to stand up for themselves and of themselves. Men, on the other hand, have a psychology of dominance and independence because traditionally, they always had to fight for themselves and their families.
This is where the women leaders in Kenya seemed to have jumped a step. They have begun by attempting to secure political power. This move would only liberate women generally and on a very broad level. It does not liberate women generally and on a very broad level. It does liberate women in their special circumstances, for example, at the family level. Women may not appreciate the necessity of assumption of political power where they themselves are not liberated in their own peculiar situations.
They also cannot be proper participants in national decision making in their own families. And only economic liberation will grant the bargaining power they need to participate in domestic decision making.
In encouraging women into economic liberation, it will not be realistic for women leaders to blame men for the economic woes of the women folk. They must appreciate the situation as a fact of life borne in the historical background of the society. Dependence is still a phenomenon embedded in the psychology of most Kenyan women. This was recognized by Mrs. Phoebe Asiyo when she told women not to “seat like beggars who only ask to be given”.
The women leaders will also have to supplement the economic liberation with other forms of liberation. They must raise awareness in fellow women on other aspects of women’s liberation. One of the most fundamental aspects which women leaders in Kenya have not been enthusiastic about is sexual exploitation. There are many women in Kenya who have to give sexual favors to men in exchange of benefits like employment, and think it is a deal. Women leaders will have to sensitize them on these issues.
Only after this entire process of liberation is under way can the competition against men in politics be significant to all the women folk. The political participation of women in society would usher in the second stage of women liberation; that of changing the attitude of men.
The changes in the status of the woman in the Kenyan society will, like all other changes, be heavily opposed by the male folk. It will require patience and perseverance on the part of the women. It will also require a strong fighting spirit.
Mrs. Beth Mugo says that if women are to be taken seriously, they must demand to be heard. This is where economic liberation becomes important; when they have to, individually and generally, stand up against men. It is where they can, without jeopardy on their part, use their power to vote to change public policy.
Hard though it would be, it will be fruitful. Prof. Wangari Maathai’s experience is testimony to this. After her success against all odds to stop the development of a 60-storey building at Uhuru Park, everyone takes her seriously when she speaks in defence of public land.
With these gradual changes, and without any conscious realization on our part, the Kenyan society will change. Those stereotyped convictions of what men cannot do and women must do will slowly fade. The overall changes at a national level will descend into every household, uprooting male chauvinism at its base.
But danger lays ahead, danger to our society and social institutions. The greatest threat is to the institution of marriage and the conduct of social relationships between men and women.
Infighting for women’s liberation, women leaders do at times get so enthusiastic that they are submerged in their endeavors. They are overcome by their struggles. The victim becomes not the social set-up and the male attitudes but the men. Anti-men attitudes are enhanced and preached.
Divorce and single-motherhood become a fad. The very natural sexual differences between men and women are denied. It becomes criminal to appreciate a woman as a female being and this makes the social relationships upon which humanity procreates strained.
Some words to women and men leaders – Arise! Wake up to the full tenor of your creation! Realize the full intention of your life. It’s the only one you have. But remember that humanity has to be around tomorrow. We are all sitting on a social powder keg. Please don’t give off sparks.