Young and fearless

C. Waruguru swearing in.jpgAs a youthful County Women’s Representative who fought her way up from a Nominated MCA position, Waruguru overcame insurmountable odds to clinch the seat, thanks to her resilience, go-getter attitude, oozing charisma and warm personality that endeared her to the electorate. She tells us her story.
Q: What motivated you to dive into the rather murky waters of politics?
A: Naturally, I am driven by the desire to make a difference and this greatly contributed to my nomination as an MCA to represent the youth in Laikipia County Assembly in 2013. In the House, I grabbed the opportunity to work for the people of Laikipia. It did not matter that I had been nominated to represent the youth; I went out of my way to tirelessly work for the youth, women and men alike. I desired to see leadership of change, leadership that is people-driven, and that was largely lacking in my county. I focused on addressing pertinent issues residents were dealing with and through this, I seized the opportunity to scale up the leadership ladder. I, however, did not do this alone. I constantly consulted my mentor, who never tired of reminding me “if I walk with the wise, I will be wise”.
Q: Is that why you threw your hat in the ring to vie for the Women’s Representative position?
A: (Smiles) Absolutely! For a long time, the leadership in my county has been wanting. I always had this nudging feeling that it was unreachable and out of touch with the needs of the people, and that is not what leadership is supposed to be. Secondly, I appreciate the 2010 Constitution that made devolution and affirmative action a reality. If you look at the Constitution, do we nominate women, youth and persons with disability just for the sake of it? No. I realised the benefits that the new dispensation has presented to the young people devoted to leadership of change and I grabbed that opportunity to learn the art of the game, meet the people, get exposed both at the county and national levels and understand the needs of the people.

Q: Evidently, women politicians face the strongest resistance and in some cases, violence when they toss themselves in the political arena. How was it like for you?
A: You can say that again. My leadership journey has been a
roller-coaster of a ride. Thanks to my determination, resilience and ambition, I never gave up. Above all, I attribute the far that I have come to God. Every time I felt weary, I prayed and sought His face. That gave me strength. I also sought the counsel of the wise and my mentor held my hand; the Church supported me and so did my family and supporters. Being young with a big ambition most definitely attracts a sizeable number of enemies. During party nominations in April, we were 10 women fighting for the Jubilee Party ticket and when the dust settled, I emerged the winner. Instead of my worthy opponents conceding and showing the will to work with me, the nine other women ganged up against me. During the campaign trail, I was called all sorts of unprintable words. It was ugly. They even dug up my family history to shame me, but to their surprise, it worked to my advantage. I lost my mother when I was a young girl and my grandmother raised me. So I was not new to being branded an orphan and a street urchin. During the rallies, they taunted me as an orphan with no family lineage but when I hit the ground, I spoke to families, some who are raising children of their siblings because they are orphaned. I was ready for the political battle, and guess who emerged victorious?
Q: Now that the people of Laikipia have given you the mantle of leadership, what should they expect?
A: First and foremost, I want to thank them for trusting me to represent them in Parliament. Getting down to work, I want peace for my people; I want to see an end to rampant cattle rustling. Very soon, I look forward to meeting the President and telling him, “Look, Mr President, to get sustainable peace in Rift Valley, particularly Laikipia, we need to bring on board Isiolo, Baringo and Samburu counties and sit down with all the leaders and security teams to decide in one voice to end banditry and cattle rustling, because I believe this is doable.” I look forward to working with MCAs in my county to understand the needs of the people. As a woman leader, I have drawn lessons from the shortcomings and weaknesses of leaders who have served before me. I am keen to offer leadership that is people-oriented and people driven. To break it down, top on my agenda is security, water and education for my people. It is unfortunate that Laikipia has no single university. We cannot claim to own Laikipia University because it sits at the border of Laikipia and Nyandarua. In addition, I want to revive Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges for the youth to sharpen their skills to become economically independent. I look forward to demonstrating a leadership that does not look down on the people that voted for me. Having said that, I will not cease to pray to God to give me humility in serving my people.

Q: Your parting shot?
A: Working for Laikipia and the people of Kenya at large cannot be done single-handedly. I am looking forward to working with my Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, the senator, MPs and MCAs to deliver to our people a county they will take pride in; a county that will set the bar so high in service delivery to its people and a leadership of reconciliation.

 

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#2017NiMama = 50:50 political seats

The Largest Convention of Women Leaders in the history of Kenya brought together more than 4,000 women from different parts of the country to the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi to launch a movement with a firm declaration to push for more leadership slots in 2017 elections.

Dubbed ‘2017 Ni Mama Movement’, the meeting brought together women of all walks of life, regardless of their political affiliation, profession and social status.

The March 10 forum came at an appropriate time with the 2017 General Election just five months away, and two days after the International Women’s Day was marked to commemorate the struggles and accomplishments of women across the world.

Delivering the key-note speech, State Department of Gender Affairs Principle Secretary Zeinab Hussein noted that despite the achievements made by women in different spheres of life, wide disparities exist in achieving gender equality in leadership particularly in politics.

“For instance, the implementation of the 2/3 gender principle in Parliament remains elusive and we are all aware of the various processes that have been employed in an attempt to achieve a solution which has not been successful,” said Hussein.

While the representation of women in Parliament has increased over the years with women forming about 19.5 per cent in the current august House, the numbers remain critically low, keeping in mind that women account for more than 50 per cent of the Kenyan citizen population.

“We still at this time have no elected female governor and no elected female senator,” noted Hussein.

The State Department of Gender Affairs is determined to ensure that women’s representation in Parliament meets the Constitutional principle. This, Hussein said, will be done through constantly updating a national strategy to guide the incremental participation of women in politics.

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Gender Affairs Principal Secretary Zeinab Hussein

The #2017 Ni Mama forum brought together seasoned, young and aspiring women from all political divides: Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua, (aspirant for the Kirinyaga gubernatorial seat), Kisumu deputy governor Ruth Odinga, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Nominated senator Zipporah Kittony, Former Lands Cabinet secretary Charity Ngilu, former Registrar of Judiciary Gladys Shollei  (aspirant for Uasin Gishu women’s representative seat) among others.

Informed by historical challenges and achievements, the women discussed emerging issues that continuously bar them from elective politics. In their bid to achieve gender parity in political leadership, they outlined, and resolved to address the following major concerns.

First, they noted that crucial to the totality of democracy in the country is to empower women in political spaces. While the representation of women in Parliament has increased over the years, political parties remain the biggest impediment to women’s ascent to politics. Most political parties are dominated by men making it difficult for women to have political networks for mobilisation.

Therefore, the women resolved to join and actively participate in political parties by fronting a movement to negotiate for meaningful inclusion at all levels to compete for the few winnable party nomination slots. They were challenged to work in unity to get into leadership positions from the counties to the National government level. Further, concerted efforts are crucial to inspire women to aspire for leadership and steer the nation towards equal participation in decision-making.

Secondly, electoral related violence against women is a huge hindrance to their political engagement. Since in most African communities women are considered a “weaker gender”, they are more often the target of political mudslinging and intimidation.  Male candidates are more likely than their female counterparts to organise political violence and hooliganism. The brazen attacks on women candidates, that also extends to their families, often intimidates the women, making them shun politics altogether.

They condemned heavily any attacks – physical or verbal – meted on women aspirants, and called on government agencies such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) and the National Police Service to apply full force to perpetrators of violence and hate mongers. They also called on their male colleagues to allow for fair competition.

“When out there campaigning, be aware of your security,” said Karua. “I personally do not campaign at night. I do my campaign between 6am and 6pm. Daytime is better than night time because the power of light is greater than that of darkness. We want women to enter and leave the political battle ground in one piece.”

Women Leaders Attending the Nimama Convention

Seasoned women politicians (L-R) Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua, Kisumu deputy governor Ruth Odinga.

Thirdly, women remain alive to the fact that the road to reaching gender parity in political leadership is full of challenges. Their call for 50-50 representation in political parties could propel them to the decision-making organs of government. However, the sad reality is that women are not offering themselves in large numbers for leadership. Most of them continue to shy away from winnable seats and resign to taking up less influential and shadowy roles in politics.

Karua reminded them to take courage, to stick to one party and to keep their eyes on the ball. Her unsuccessful attempt at the presidency in 2013, she says, has not discouraged her from contesting this year to become the first woman governor in the history of Kenya.

Kuvunjika kwa mwiko sio mwisho wa kupika (breaking of the wooden spoon does not mark the end of cooking),” she describes, of her determination.

The year 2016 remains a watershed in women’s aim at influential leadership positions. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s put up a spirited attempt at the presidency of America, United Nations Secretary General candidates Unesco chief Irina Bokova, former New Zealand PM Helen Clark, the European commissioner for budget and human resources Kristalina Georgieva, and closer home, Foreign Affairs Cabinet secretary Amb Amina Mohammed’s bid for the chairperson of the African Union Commission, are testimony to the fact that women are equally up to the task, like their male counterparts.

In line with this, mentorship by seasoned women politicians is instrumental in realising success.  Lessons have been learnt and success has been measured. But the deeply entrenched patriarchal systems remain a stumbling block to the full realization of women’s leadership potential. Therefore, to overcome customs and traditions that hold women back from seeking elective positions, it is important to device ways to address these societal injustices and overcome patriarchal mindsets.

The movement, spearheaded by the National Women Steering Committee (NWSC), Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), CRAWN Trust, Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW) declared that they will continue to offer support to realise genuine democracy where all sections of the population participate equally in holding political power.

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CRAWN Trust Executive Director Daisy Amdany

“We have today made a declaration to push for half of the leadership positions in Kenya. We have a charter that outlines issues that we are pushing. In 2017, our voice must be heard. If women unite, they will fortify their position in providing visionary leadership and solutions to challenges that Kenya is facing,” said CRAWN Trust executive director Daisy Amdany.

As the curtains of the historic event came down, one thing was clear – totality of democracy in Kenya will only be achieved with women as active players in political leadership.

 

 

Re-engineering girl power

cp-best-1280In one way or another, we all have some recollection of our childhood. I guess you can vividly remember child-play, going to school, adventures and, of course, mischief that often landed you in trouble. Childhood is no doubt enjoyable. You have no bills to pay, no responsibilities and few worries.

I bet when you now think of it, you wish you would go back to being a child, yet when you were young, you yearned for the day you would grow up, leave the nest and forever be independent. The paradox of life!

As children, we were vulnerable and in the palm of our parents or guardians. We were oblivious to cruelties of the world, mostly sugar-coated by prescriptions of culture, depending on where you came from. As societies moulded boys and girls’ behaviour, they separately took up certain roles. This way, children gradually took up responsibilities without questioning, which eventually shape the ideologies of their social standing.
In most communities, some adult responsibilities such as fetching water, collecting firewood, looking after the invalid were, and still are, readily employed on girls. This, no doubt, limits the girl-child’s ability to fully enjoy her childhood by limiting her play and study time.

Studies have shown that in some countries, girls are exposed to sexual violence, abduction for early marriages when they go to collect firewood and fetch water. Further, statistics show that girls aged between five and 14 spend at least 40 per cent of their time engaging in unpaid household chores. This disproportionate burden of domestic care evidently disadvantages girls, compared to boys their age, by limiting their ability to explore the public space.

In the end, they grow up with a mindset confined to the household and private spaces. Little wonder most girls struggle with low self-esteem, suppressed intelligence and violated human rights.UNI132253.jpg

With this realisation, on December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 66/170, proclaiming October 11 as the International Day of the Girl. The day is aimed at drawing attention to the need to create more opportunities for girls and to increase awareness of the gender inequalities they face. These inequalities discriminate girls’ access to education, expose them to teenage pregnancy, poor menstrual hygiene, deprive them of healthcare rights, nutrition, and legal rights, among others.

As the world marked the day yesterday, with this year’s theme being “Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls” ambition and potential of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for girls are applauded. It is recognition of how girls’ progress is good not only for them, but also for communities and society at large.

This means that as global citizens, we must seize this opportunity to consider how existing gaps can be closed to promote the wellbeing and progress of half of humanity. SDG Five —Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls—that aims to end all forms of gender inequality, particularly discrimination against women and girls all over the world, is intricately linked to nearly every other global goals.

To end poverty, for instance, it is important to ensure girls get an education to enable them contribute to shaping the global politics and economy. All the more reason why we must continue to put more girls in school, as has since been relatively achieved under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

cp-best-1280On the same breathe; more awareness has been raised on critical issues affecting the advancement of girls such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early marriages, and trafficking and sexual violence. But more importantly, the momentum built must be sustained to build a world where girls are safe to explore their full potential, achieve goals and live their dreams.

African women break the Interweb

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On February 8th 2017, Urgent Action Fund-Africa (@UAFAfrica) brought together African women from across different social movements for a robust tweetathon.

The super fast-paced online interactions widely addressed immediate human rights issues women are excited about as well as those they were grappling with.

Evidently not restricted by 140-characters, the Tweets engaged in an in-depth interrogation of social-dynamic issues, shared info-graphics, celebrated milestones, posed challenges and offered tested and/or applicable solutions to issues facing women in the African continent.

In literal sense, the women activists broke the Interwebs, thanks to @UAF-Africa qustion: What do you regard as an URGENT women’s rights issue in Africa?

Here is a random compilation of the tweets.

 

Hotline 1195

stream_imgAre you on a date and you are not feeling comfortable? Do you feel like you are not safe? Is your PoF (PlentyOfFish) date not who they said they were on their profile? Does it all feel a bit weird? If you go to the bar and ask for “Angela”, the staff will know you need some help getting out of your situation and will call for a taxi or help you out discreetly, without too much fuss.

“I’m Angela” is a campaign in Lincolnshire in East England, to help women and girls protect themselves from sexual violence. Under the #NoMore to date rape banner, the campaign is keeping female revellers safe and ensuring that in the event their safety is threatened, they get home safe. The coded campaign has seen potential victims rescued in the nick of time and suspects arrested for questioning and/or their movements monitored.

The year is coming to an end and it has been an eventful one — from the geopolitical realignments in the West, to the changing social-cultural dynamics in Africa and Asia. That said, December is undoubtedly the season to make merry, let down your guard, throw caution to the wind and generally enjoy the holidays. However, this season brings with it adversities as lawbreakers and perpetrators of violence, mostly against women, girls and boys take advantage of the festivities to strike.

In Kenya, although there are no measures in place such as “Angela” to mitigate sexual abuses, Hotline 1195 offers speedy assistance to those who fall prey to these forms of violence. The toll free number unveiled by the Health Care Assistance Kenya (HAK) provides “first aid” remedy to the survivors, report incidents to relevant authorities, access treatment to prevent contracting STIs as well as access justice. More often, especially in rural and low-income urban areas, the culture of silence endangers the lives of women and girls. This is perhaps why the toll free line is a timely starting point in addressing sexual violence.

The African setting treats sexual violence (defilement, rape, gender-based violence, sexual harassment etc) as taboo subjects often discussed under hushed tones.
According to statistics by HAK, at least 90 per cent of those who suffer sexual violence acquire HIV/Aids. In 2016 during the first five days of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence campaign, HAK registered 254 cases of sexual abuse cases, translating to at least 50 cases every day. Of the statistics, women were the most assaulted, followed by girls, boys and men. Counties leading in the vice were Nairobi, Kakamega, Vihiga, Kisumu and Kiambu. This grim reality is testimony to the fact that Kenya has a long way to go in eliminating sexual abuse.

Although men are the majority perpetrators, it does not mean they are immune to abuse. Some fall victim and when they do, they must speak up to bring the perpetrators to book. They should banish the culture of suffering in silence and speak up for themselves as well as for women.

In Kenya, the media have been instrumental in highlighting cases of sexual abuse. Their efforts have gone a long way in helping to bring about review of policies and strategies and administration of justice. Campaigns such as #Jitokezee are being used to drum up support in the fight against sexual violence, which should be the responsibility of every Kenyan.
With concerted efforts, we can achieve a country free from all forms of sexual abuse — defilement, rape, sodomy, physical assault, FGM, psychological torture, early marriages, child neglect and abandonment, denial of opportunities and virgin testing. We must join hands in saying No to the vices.

As curtains fall on 2016, stay safe. Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2017.

#WomenOccupyMediaSpace

opedprojectlogoHow often do you read opinion pieces, known as Op-Eds or commentaries in journalistic jargon, by women in local dailies? Has it ever crossed your mind that most opinions are written by men, yet women represent 52 per cent of the population?

The reality of how women’s voices are absent on Op-Ed spaces inspired Urgent Action Fund, the African Women and Child Feature Services and The Op-Ed Project to bring together seasoned and budding women writers for an evening of stimulating conversations on how to close the gender gap and amplify women’s voices.

Earlier this week, the three organisations organised a workshop that sought to contribute to the development of feminist tools of analysis and learning, particularly through the publication of Op-Eds. The main goal was to enhance the profile of female writers in mainstream, online, social and other alternative media.

The intellectually-powered evening played host to an interactive conversations between the budding and established writers, editors, journalists and opinion shapers on the importance of developing authentic African creative writing that informs, influences and at the same time, inspires transformative agenda and action.

Throughout the one-week workshop and conversation evening, the organisers intended to interrogate the possible avenues of opening up more spaces of influence for women to write, stir interest, groom and impact on creative writing grounded on African feminist perspective that can contribute to theory, practice and new knowledge.

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The conversations were also focused on producing a culture of vibrant intellectual thought in opinion writing, to challenge society’s socio-economic struggles and historical burdens that bar women from engaging in matters such as international politics and economy.

Evidently, patriarchy remains a crippling disadvantage for women in media and communications. Studies have shown that there are fewer African women authors than men. This, perhaps, explains why the African narrative is biased against women. A recent survey shows that coverage of gender issues in Kenya stand at 22 per cent, Tanzania (21 per cent), Uganda (28 per cent), South Sudan (13 per cent) and Sudan (11 per cent).
There are even fewer women commentators on hard news subjects such as politics, environment, economy and security. This means men have more opportunities and influence on changing worldviews and practice than women.

The Op-Ed project’s mission is to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas globally. To achieve this, the number of women in the commentaries platform must increase. This can be achieved when women take the onus to occupy the spaces in the media and get their voices heard. They have the responsibility to deconstruct the African narrative and shape perceptions. Women need to be focused and consistent in educating the masses on issues that affect their lives and their families.

During the evening of conversations, the few women who write said they were hardcore, confident of the opinions they voice and do not care what people say. Women were encouraged to overcome fear of being criticised by readers and stand up for what they write and truly believe in. That, it was said, is the sure way of transforming mindsets and opening up opportunities for debate while at the same time closing the gender gap in the media and communication arena.

If you are a woman, regardless of where you come from, your occupation or social standing, you have the power and a chance to be heard to shape the society we live in.

Stop Gender Based Violence!

timthumb.php.jpgEveryday just before dusk, Nyawira dashes through the vast pasture field in her rural home to collect milk from a neighbour’s farm. It is a chore the six-year-old has been dutifully carrying out for almost two years.

On this cloudy evening, she abandons her play, grabs a jerry can and dashes to the gate.
But one hour or so later, Nyawira is not back home and there is no word on her whereabouts. Her grandmother is worried and pondering her next move.
The next day, the cruel man who lured Nyawira into his house and defiled her all night sets o to his usual drinking den. His body and mind is deluded in his callous and senseless actions of the previous night. All he wants now is a drink to soothe his thirsty throat.

And left behind is Nyawira. Her clothes torn, bloody and her face drenched in tears. She cries hysterically as she struggles to crawl out of the mud-walled and grass-thatched house. Help! Help! A woman in a nearby farm hears her cries and comes to her rescue. Nyawira’s is not an isolated case. The first sexual experience for an estimated one in every three women in the world is forced.

Global statistics on Gender Based Violence (GBV) show that among every 100 women and girls, three have had their genitals mutilated or cut; 33 were forced into their first sexual experience; 27 are girls under 16 years old where 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed on them; 33 have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner; while 40 have received unwanted sexual advances, physical contact and harassment at work. Statistics of gender-based violence can seem overwhelming. Incomprehensible, even. But, for the sake of Nyawira, and many other vulnerable girls and women, we must spare no effort to make neighbourhoods safe for them.

Forms of GBV, of which rape is only one, are perpetrated daily around the world. At this point, it is important to note that violence is directed at both genders. But, statistically speaking, it is women and girls who bear the brunt in most societies. Reason? Violence is a symptom of a wider dynamic of gender inequality, poverty and power. As the world marks the 16 Days of Activism Against all Forms of Gender Based Violence —between November 25 and December 10 — individuals and groups call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by raising awareness. This is also a period when focus is directed towards strengthening local work around violence against women as well as establishing a clear link between local and international work to end the vice.

Justice for survivors of sexual violence remains critically impugned.
They lack knowledge and information on what to do in the event they are assaulted.
This unfortunate reality is deeply entrenched in the administrative structure of many societies where even law enforcers such as the police and local administrators are ill-equipped in handling such cases.

Some years back, gender-desks had been established at police stations to handle cases of sexual abuse. They did not last, perhaps, because of the prejudice associated with persons seeking assistance. e fact that they were isolated, meant that those seeking the services faced secondary victimisation.

That said, the dialogue today must clearly deliver the message that there will be zero tolerance for sexual violence.
As the world marks World Aids Day, dedicated to raise awareness of the pandemic and assess measures to combat the scourge, I salute survivors of sexual violence who may have contracted the virus. They are warriors, they are our heroines.

No to rape mocking

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Two years after the post-election violence (PEV) of 2007/08, I visited Kibera slums in Nairobi. It was one of the hotspots of the violence that hit the country after the disputed 2007 General Election. When the results of the presidential election were announced, it sparked chaos that led to the loss and destruction of lives and property. Men, women and children found themselves trapped in madness completely beyond their control. Hundreds died, others survived, hanging on to dear life with painful wounds, both physical and psychological.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I meet a group of about 20 women in a semi-permanent corrugated iron-sheets church in the heart of the informal settlement. The women, both young and old, had suffered from one of the most atrocious crimes that human beings can commit — rape. As the women opened up on the events leading up to their ordeals, you could hear a pin drop as the deafening silence filled the room.

The stories were heart-wrenching. I learnt that some contracted HIV/Aids, got pregnant and others even had to undergo corrective surgery. They were, however, still undergoing counseling to heal their wounds and reconcile with their painful past.

Last year, I visit Kyangwali Refugee Settlement camp in Uganda where I interacted with survivors of civil war from South Sudan, DR Congo, Rwanda and Kenya (some PEV survivors have found a home in this refugee camp). Most of the women I met were still battling with the hell-on-earth experiences that included loss of families, livelihoods and rape. You cannot even wish on your worst enemy such tragedies.

So when last week Nairobi governor hopeful Miguna Miguna made “rape comments” about his rival for the seat, Esther Passaris, it was such a shock. The unfortunate use of rape as an analogy normalised the vice and was an insult to those who have been raped.
This incident reminded me of an incident some years back when the then Justice Minister Kiraitu Murungi caused outrage when reacting to donor’s remarks on the government’s fight against corruption. He said their criticism was like “raping a woman who is already willing”. The statement caused a national outcry forcing him to apologise.

Rape is a crime. It is a sin. It is a violation of human rights. It is violence. It is demeaning. I cannot even begin to explain how a person’s life changes the moment they undergo the ordeal. And that is why we have to be sensitive and considerate when words such as rape are carelessly used to insult and mock another person.

Over the years, countries that have experienced war have witnessed the rise of the crime, which is not only a by-product of war but has been used as a deliberate military strategy —an orchestrated weapon of war.

Therefore, as a society, we should condemn utterances made to demean women and worse still, disrespect the feelings of victims of rape. As we go into the electioneering period, women aspiring for political posts are predisposed to verbal as well as physical violence. Their competitors discourage them through intimidation. Women have a role to play in steering the country and they should join forces to support their own. Most importantly, the political class as well as the electorate should not condone mudslinging, violence and intimidation.

 

Hillary Clinton! The people’s president

000_HW04I.jpgNovember 8, 2016 will go down in history as one of the most defining moments in global politics. As Americans went to the polls, the world followed with bated breath awaiting the results of the neck-to-neck, hotly contested elections. For the women’s movement and advocates of gender equality, it was a defining election, given that it was the rest time a woman had been picked by a major political party to contest the arguably most powerful political seat in the world.

When the numbers were up, the unthinkable happened.

Hillary Clinton lost the election.

For her supporters in the US and across the world, it was a face-in-hand or a head-down moment. A huge disappointment!

Personally, I had barely slept because of anxiety. That morning, I woke up at dawn to catch up on the tallying. And as time went by, and the results trickled in, I watched in disbelief as my dreams were shattered.

Shortly after, political pundits stormed our screens, airwaves and social media spaces giving all possible explanations on what could have informed the US population to vote the way they did. Although in the run up to the election, we seemed to have been consumed by euphoria of a Hillary win, this was largely because of the pollsters, the outcome of the presidential debate and reporting by the media.

Having said that, Hillary’s unsuccessfully attempt to occupy the White House should not cast a dark cloud over advocates and defenders of women’s rights. All is not lost. In fact, this is the time to double our efforts. Over the years, the women’s movement has made tremendous gains in the fight against discrimination, hate and bigotry.
And while that road has not always been easy, women have defied the odds and achieved the unimaginable.
When her rival was declared president-elect, in her concession speech, Hillary said her loss was “painful” but was quick to use her platform as an opportunity to reach out to girls and women everywhere.

She conconfidently addressed the proverbial glass ceiling, saying her election defeat had proven that women still had not managed to shatter it. She further assured women that her loss should not deter women from trying to reach their goals.

She said: “To all the women and especially the young women who put their faith in this campaign and me, I want you to know nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion. Now I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling.
But someday, someday someone will hopefully sooner than we might think right now. And to all the little girls who are watching this — never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”.

For many girls and women, Hillary remains a role model. Although today women may feel far from the world we imagined for ourselves, our families and communities, this is a clarion call to continue working and dreaming big, to create a movement focused on transforming the world.

We must recommit to our pledges and promises to stand together and push forward to achieve the change we so much desire.
In the largely democratic world we live in, our participation is paramount in making decisions to prosper us, as we stand side by side united, determined and strong to promote equality.

I don’t belong in the kitchen!

16280-an-african-american-couple-preparing-a-healthy-meal-pvI may not be a great cook but that does not mean I cannot keep a family healthy and nourished. I make no apologies because my womanhood is not defined by my culinary skills. Don’t get me wrong, though. Having good culinary skills is a good thing but it all boils down to interest.

A recent article in one of the dailies said a survey had revealed that the cooking skills of women from Central Kenya are wanting. The story sparked debate on a morning radio talk show, with many of the callers expressing disapproval of the findings. A while back, a photo of a plate of fish mixed with bananas and beans floating on watery-looking soup did rounds on social media, with cheeky — in some cases, derogatory — comments attributing the source of the dish to Central Kenya.

Traditionally, cooking is one of the roles women are assigned and has been used to define women. This reminded me of the obentos of Japan. Japanese children, going off to nursery school for the first time, carry a boxed lunch – obento – prepared by their mothers. Customarily, these obentos are highly crafted elaborations of food, a multitude of miniature portions, artistically designed and precisely arranged in a container that is, clean, sturdy and cute. These mothers spend enormous time — between 30 to 45 minutes — to plan, cook, prepare and assemble one obento for one nursery school-aged child. In fact, she has to shop for the food a day earlier. Ideally, the attention given to the preparation of the food is in an effort to please their children and affirm that they are good mothers. Preparing the obento is the most worrisome concern facing the mother of a child attending school for the first time. The women are, therefore, under pressure to organise, re-organise, arrange and rearrange, style and re-style the food to appear in a design that is attractive.

The attention given to the obentos is in a way, a form of manipulation as to the place of the woman in society, and on another level, shapes the mindsets of children, more specifically girls, on the roles and positions they will be expected to play as adults.
The obento is, therefore, filled with the meaning of mother and home in a number of ways.

Critically analysing this, motherhood is institutionalised through the child’s school and routines, as making of the obento is a full-time, kept-at-home job.In fact, most mothers cannot afford to work in even part-time jobs because of the overwhelming attention and devotion needed to making the obentos to the best of her ability because the outcome, in a sense, defines who they are.

Closer home, perhaps in a departure from the norm that women belong in the kitchen, K24 airs a programme “Get Into The Kitchen”, every Wednesday at 8.30pm.
Two men are appointed by their spouses, family members or even their employees to prepare a meal. It is fun to watch the men sweat it out as they juggle the ingredients, cutlery and the unforgiving heat from the cookers, to cook.
Although in a subtle manner, the show more demystifies the notion of men/women and the kitchen. It is a welcome relief to cultural beliefs and practices keen to domesticate and reinforce the women’s place in the kitchen.