What you need to know:
- To use gender as a negotiating chip for a seat the table is the easiest way to be ignored.
- Men never ask for an opportunity because they are men or because they are our fathers, sons, and brothers.
At a recent coalition agreement signing ceremony, the center of attraction was a photo of an all-male lineup of the 12 principals. The 12 men — with their party leader strategically sandwiched at the middle — hoisted each other’s hands up in the air as a symbolic display of unity.
It was not so much the coalition that got people talking, rather the conspicuous exclusion of women in a national coalition that promises to serve the more than 50 million Kenyan including women who are half the population.
What happened next was a disappointing turn of events that involved a group of ‘non-partisan’ women meeting with the party leader. While we are not privy to details of the discussion, it was the messaging at the press briefing outside the now all too familiar party leader’s residence that was heartbreaking to watch.
The words of the woman called upon to speak broke my heart; “We are requesting… we are actually demanding politely that running mates should be women. Women are formidable in this country…we are the mothers of this country, we are the nurses of this country, and we need to be at the table with everyone else...”
This is exactly why women are excluded in politics, boardrooms, and important spaces like party coalitions. When we — women — see ourselves only as women, and that the only thing we bring to the table is our gender and our gendered roles such as mothers, sisters and daughters, we send a strong message to ourselves and to men; that we are different, perhaps even inferior and underserving, while in truth, we are capable human beings with unique talents and skills that any country, coalition or board would immensely benefit from. Gender is a social construct. To use gender as a negotiating chip for a seat the table is the easiest way to be ignored.
Competence card, not gender card
Men never ask for an opportunity because they are men or because they are our fathers, sons, and brothers. So why do women play the gender card when asking for opportunities? Do not see yourself as a woman. You are more than that. See yourself as a human being first and then a professional with a unique set of competencies and skills.
This is an uncomfortable truth that only a woman could tell her fellow women, because if this message came from a man, it would be termed as sexist. Even the women who have gone before us know this; Kamala Harris is not a female vice president of the United States; she is a vice president.
Ketanji Brown Jackson is not a female associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; she is an Associate Justice. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is not a female Director-General of the World Trade Organisation; she is the DG of the WTO. Martha Koome is not a female Chief Justice; she is Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya.
I am not asking us to shed our femininity, all I ask is that we stop approaching the world as women only, but as capable human beings. Memo to Kenyan women: Play the competence card, not the gender card.
The writer is the Director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]