What you need to know:
- There is strong evidence that, as more women are elected to office, there is an increase in policy-making that emphasizes quality of life.
- The meaningful participation of women in national, local and community leadership roles has become an important focus on global development policy.
Whatever way the script is written, women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy — including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines and a sustainable future. There is also strong evidence that, as more women are elected to office, there is an increase in policy-making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of family, women and ethnic minorities.
Accordingly, the meaningful participation of women in national, local and community leadership roles has become an important focus on global development policy.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted: “Study after study has taught us there is no tool for development more effective than empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce child and maternal mortality.”
In her inaugural address on January 15, 2006, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman in Africa to hold that position, set forth her foreign policy orientation, saying that Liberia would no longer be used for insurgency and would strengthen ties with the rest of the world, especially neighbours. That had massive dividends, including the waiver of all debts by dozens of countries and international organisations and institutions. Who else could have performed so splendidly?
Woman running mate
Women leaders of today are tenacious and diverse. They are mobilising the global climate movement, pushing for social protections, addressing the Covid-19 crisis and dismantling systemic racial discrimination. Across the continent, women leaders improve lives and inspire a better future for all.
Malawi’s first female president, Joyce Banda, came to power under peculiar circumstances. She was never elected as president but, as vice-president, ascended to power after her male predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, died in office. She initiated austerity measures that won the international community’s heart but were not popular at home. Donors resumed funding and economic growth more than doubled in the first two years.
As Kenya get set to elect the fifth president, who, by all indication, will be a man, there is a prediction that the candidate with a woman running mate will win. With a deliberate push to pick that woman from the populous Mt Kenya region, two powerful women have been identified for the role: Narc-Kenya chairperson Martha Karua and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru. Karua is a former magistrate fondly known as ‘The Iron Lady’ for her toughness and resilience. She was once referred to as “the only man in [President] Kibaki’s government”. Leading the League of Women Voters, she has won awards for her work in Parliament and the court to advance and protect women’s rights.
Governor Waiguru’s performance record speaks for itself. While at the Finance ministry, she played a stand-out role in initiating the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) that enhanced the government’s capacity to curb fraud in public spending. Her feats as Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning include Huduma Centres, which have made it easier for Kenyans to receive government services locally.
Advance gender equality
President Uhuru Kenyatta recently noted that women are the pillar upon which society leans. They are the drivers of family health and welfare; they inculcate values and nurture the young; and they exert a powerful influence on intergenerational outcomes.
Notably, out of his 21-member Cabinet are seven women — or 29.1 per cent, up from 25.
Women’s participation in politics helps to advance gender equality and affects both the range of policy issues that get considered and the types of solutions proposed.
But even though women are vaulting to leadership spaces, challenges exist that hinder them from fully participating in political processes. Predominantly, our communities are obstinately resistant to women in leadership roles. The patriarchy society too often than not perceives women as too delicate to lead. This, among many other deep-seated and unconscious gender biases, force potential women leaders to withdraw into their shells. Yet, women possess inherently strong attributes that can be very effective.
When Kenyans recognise the political capital that women carry, they will no longer ignore and condemn them to Cinderella status.
Ms Ngunjiri is an economist and political analyst. [email protected]