Women empowerment is not a contest between the sexes

Jacqueline Oduol is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and African Languages at USIU-Africa . She is also a gender expert. PHOTO| FRANCIS NDERITU

What you need to know:

  • I regret that I have not published a lot on gender perspectives from my rich experience and interaction with different stakeholders.
  • Not spending enough time with my kids when they were young because I travelled a lot.

Prof Oduol is a Kenyan academic, thought leader, international consultant and manager with long-standing experience from senior positions in the civil service, academia and civil society. An Associate Professor of Linguistics and African Languages at USIU-Africa. Prof Oduol is also a renowned gender expert. She has specialised in child protection, leadership development, peace building and conflict resolution. She is a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development.

Do you think that there is a misunderstanding of the ideals of women empowerment?

Women empowerment is important, but we begin to misconstrue things when we take it  to mean ‘a woman trying to not be a woman’. Gender empowerment is not a contest between men and women, it is a move towards dignity and respect for women in all spheres of life and the ability of women to make decisions. Misunderstanding begins when Women Empowerment is taken to mean that empowerment is turning women against men and seen to be rebellion against cultural values. Any woman who understands what gender empowerment is cannot be in competition with anybody.


From your experiences, what are some of the best ways to show that as a young woman, you are capable of being a leader?

Yes, you will need to prove because the people that you will be dealing with will see you more as a woman than a professional with sterling potential. But your initial engagement will have a significant impact on the way these people see you.

Your self-confidence must come through, demonstrate your know-how and have self-mastery. And then also make sure that you do not sabotage yourself by being less than professional in the way you do your work.


Are you willing to admit that the society is yet to make room for the strong, bold and unassuming woman who in most cases is viewed as either a threat or ignorant of ‘African culture’?

My answer is both a yes and a no. No because I think that it is very possible to be all that and more. African women are by nature very strong. Women’s understanding of what strength is, however, should not be based on formal education. I know women from my home who never stepped inside a classroom but they were very strong and bold. So again, this bold, strong and unassuming that young women claim today must be well defined. Then I would say yes because women empowerment has been misunderstood. Breaking away from stereotypes of the traditionally subtle, compassionate or generally what is acceptable of a woman could be seen as moving away and cause conflicts.


What are some of the things that keep you awake at night regarding young people today?

Their ignorance about the significance of culture and cultural values because that means that they miss the clear sense of identity and knowledge that one gets from understanding their culture.

Then young people today need a lot of guidance to get to the place where they understand some of the rights that they have and understand that such rights come with responsibilities.


How has your understanding of gender shifted over time?

Maybe not the understanding of gender, what has shifted for me has been learning more effective ways of understanding appropriate strategies of gender empowerment.

What was your main challenge (s) in navigating the world of leadership as a young woman? How did you deal with the challenge(s)?

Gender dominance and sometimes being made to look invisible as a leader. I also faced resistance from my colleagues who sometimes withheld vital information from me but because of my upbringing where I was made to realise early enough that I was able to take a leadership position, I did not doubt my capacity to achieve and I knew that I deserved the position.

What is your feeling about affirmative action especially in regard to women joining universities with a few points lower than their male counterparts?

Because girls are not a homogeneous group, in contexts where there is proof that girls are disadvantaged, then there is no problem. But affirmative action cannot be open-ended, the circumstances leading to affirmative action should be addressed.

What lesson(s) did you learn from your unsuccessful bid to become a member of parliament in Alego-Usonga?

The electorate are not looking for a woman, they are looking for a leader so the people have to see you as a leader without drawing unnecessary attention to your gender. I also learnt that I needed to map the influencers in my area and finally, that I needed to be on the ground and in touch with the electorates.

What mistakes did you make as a young leader?

Failing to identify and take advantage of the mentors that were around me. I did not also develop leadership (self- mastery and leadership identity) at a personal level early enough.

Do you have any regrets in your life?

I regret that I have not published a lot on gender perspectives from my rich experience and interaction with different stakeholders. Not spending enough time with my kids when they were young because I travelled a lot.

I also regret the hostile face that leans more to individual self -reliance that gender equality and women’s empowerment has taken and the way it has been misunderstood by most people.


- Interview by Daisy Okoti


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