By Stella Nderitu & Miriam Beatrice
Women’s Equality Day was set aside on 26th August 1920 to appreciate the struggles for equal treatment of girls and women’s rights. It also presents an opportunity to reflect on the gains made and improvements needed to reach equality goals particularly on efforts around leadership and inclusion.
Great leaders can be defined in different ways in today’s society. John C. Maxwell, for example, claims that a leader is great, not because of his or her power, but because of his or her ability to empower others. In other words, a country’s quality of leadership can be measured by her people’s development and empowerment or lack thereof. Maxwell also goes on to point out the importance of diversity and inclusion as key ingredients to great leadership.
Over the past decade, Kenya has made strides towards representation and inclusion in leadership. This can largely be attributed to the 2010 constitution which was intended to transform the lives of Kenya’s minorities and marginalized groups, notably women. It enshrined equality in law which led to the establishment of the 2/3 gender threshold for elective and nominative positions. Although attainment of the constitution’s two-thirds gender rule remains elusive, there has been notable progress in women’s representation since 2013 to 2017 and the just concluded 2022 elections. In 2017, for instance, only 3 women were elected in the governor’s seat. Five years later, seven female governors have been elected, which is more than double the number of women governors elected compared to the previous election. Further, 30 single constituency women Members of Parliament (MPs) were elected across 18 counties -an increase of 7 from 2017 when only 23 women were elected as MPs. Additionally, according to a joint statement by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), the number of female deputy gubernatorial candidates doubled from 30 in 2017 to 62 in 2022.
For the most part, the increase in number of female leaders is a step towards narrowing the gender gap in elective politics and enhancing women empowerment across the country. However, despite key milestones in increased numbers of women who clinched elective and nominative posts in the just-concluded elections, numerous challenges stand in the way of women and girls in Kenya. Recently, the country has watched repeated, worrying and life-claiming cases of gender-based violence leading not only to the death of women but also children. Women in politics have also suffered increased online harassment.
The future of girls in Kenya is also highly threatened. Data from the National Council for Population and Development recently revealed that 1 in 5 teenage girls between 15-19 years in Kenya are pregnant or first-time mothers. School-going girls still grapple with challenges associated with domestic gendered roles like cooking, fetching water and firewood for households at the expense of their school time, and in the wake of increased climate change leading to extreme weather patterns that limit access to these resources. What’s more, defilement and sexual harassment of girls and young women in learning institutions continues to be reported in various parts of the country, and the need for sufficient sanitary products for menstrual hygiene persists in most public schools. These are not only statistical cases, but also indicators of causes of poverty and limited civic engagement by and among women.
All is not lost though. The media continues to shine spotlights on women and girls’ issues while highlighting stakeholders’ perspectives and roles in solving these challenges. This is useful in informing the public and sparking conversation about transforming communities positively and taking action against violators.
Looking forward, more resources are needed in ensuring school re-entry of teenage mothers to school until completion both because it is a human right and because education has a critical role in sustainable development. Girls’ education significantly alleviates most development issues including poverty, climate change, access to education, environmental degradation, and equality. For this, the sector must be well resourced for the achievement of women equality.
Lastly, women in leadership positions should embrace the component of mentorship in order to nurture and develop younger girls to ensure there is a correlation between the increased uptake of female leaders and improved empowerment levels at the community level – for with great power comes great responsibility.