Women represent 51 per cent of the population, yet they represent less than a third of the elected leaders countrywide. With nearly half the population shut out from policy-making, we cannot achieve the best policies, but if we tapped the full talent pool in our country, no problem will be difficult to solve.
The Constitution marked its 10th anniversary last month. It is a beautiful document that entrenches the principle of equality. Over the last decade, empowering women has become a key focus, with growing recognition of the untapped capacity of women’s leadership.
Women’s representation has fairly increased in Parliament.
UN Women says that as of February last year, only 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women globally, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995. It further notes that as of June last year, 11 women served as Heads of State and 12 as Heads of Government. As of February last year again, only three countries had 50 per cent or more women in parliament: Rwanda with 61.3 per cent, Cuba 53.2 per cent and Bolivia 53.1 per cent.
One may wonder why it matters whether women become political leaders or policymakers. There is enough evidence that we need more women involved in the political process. Their participation results in tangible gains for democracy and helps advance gender equality.
Studies have shown that when more women are elected to office, they make policies that emphasize quality of life and prioritises families, women, and the minorities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the power of women’s leadership. Countries with women in leadership have suffered six times fewer deaths from Covid-19, than those led by men. While female-led countries like Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Finland tamed the pandemic, male-led countries like the U.S, Italy, Brazil and the UK had higher numbers. The women leaders reacted faster and decisively. However, issues regarding women in leadership are always clouded by social stereotypes.
While men are assumed to be qualified, women have to prove over and over that they are qualified.
Women seeking political office continue to face the age-old challenges of balancing competing family responsibilities and political funding. Despite this, however, they are breaking the glass ceiling in politics although their voices still go unheard, and their contributions are often side-lined. Africa's first elected female President Liberia's former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that after years of trying to ascend to top leadership, she understood how difficult it is for women.
So long as we continue associating leadership with masculine features, female leaders will continue to be evaluated negatively even when their performance is better. They are still largely seen as incapable of handling responsibilities perceived as male-oriented – and it has been the case in parliaments where women are only allowed to sit in women committees. But that is changing.
Locally, there is a glimmer of hope; counties like Kirinyaga, Kitui and Bomet elected female governors in 2017, and some key positions in Parliament are now held by women, although we are still short of the two-thirds representation.
Women candidates are always plagued by the question of whether or not they are ‘electable’.
Sirleaf’s achievement, despite obstacles, is proof that women are electable. We need more women from diverse backgrounds bringing their talents to political forums to change policies.
From experience, female politicians tend to prioritize social issues relevant to the marginalised including women and girls. They bring the female voice to policy discussions.
As 2022 beckons, the men are already out campaigning. Let’s see more women focus their passion for shaping a better Kenya by seeking political posts including the Presidency. I hope also to see the first female vice-president in the United States in the name of Kamala Harris.