Faith Oneya: Gender equality debate transcends politicking

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga (left) and Kenya Kwanza's William Ruto. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • We all know how the script goes during an election year like this one.
  • It starts with big, impossible promises that would require miracles to deliver, then as soon as the candidate gets the seat, the promises disappear faster than a dog with a bone.

"Mum, can a girl be president?" my daughter asked me one day a few months ago.

"Of course, a girl can do anything she wants," I quickly reassured her, wondering why the topic came up.

She nodded sceptically. Later, she told me they had just learnt about past Kenyan presidents, and none was a woman.

“How come a woman has never been president?” she insisted.

I could think of no satisfactory answer that a child would understand.

This was before Martha Karua was announced as Azimio flag-bearer Raila Odinga's running mate. And long before political parties started falling over themselves, trying to prove to voters that they had the gender agenda at heart. But do they?

We all know how the script goes during an election year like this one. It starts with big, impossible promises that would require miracles to deliver, then as soon as the candidate gets the seat, the promises disappear faster than a dog with a bone.

While I deeply appreciate Ms Karua's rise to a running mate position and the efforts political parties are making to match or counter the 'Karua effect' for women in political leadership, I can't help but be as sceptical as my daughter had been.

Convenient campaign tool

We must not allow the drumbeats of campaigns to drown the gender agenda. Many of the promises made to women in the latest campaigns are just their fundamental rights.

They should not be dangled as trophies to be won if the electorate picks so and so versus so and so as their leaders. Unfortunately, the seductive nature of campaigns might make us drown in the illusion that the gender agenda has suddenly become important and is not just a convenient campaign tool.

Most politicians had decades to show they cared about maternity care, and pads for girls and women in political leadership, among other issues. Very few of them managed to show us they cared.

So much as we applaud political rhetoric, we must reject tokenism and fight for sustainable solutions that will ensure every woman and girl benefits long after the campaign drumbeats go silent.

136 years

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report (2021), it will take 136 years to close the global gender gap. But here in Kenya, it seems we have the magic formula of closing the gap in a matter of a few years, going by some of the promises made on the campaign trail.

I believe in miracles but also believe in facts. And facts are often served in teaspoons during campaigns, so I choose to be a happy heathen on this.

Otherwise, I may once again get stranded in the boulevard of broken promises of gender equality.

There are systemic, social and cultural issues standing in the way of gender equality and the solutions to them can only be found outside the postures of the political class. The gender equality debate transcends politicking. You can take that to the ballot.


Miss Oneya comments on social and gender topics. Twitter @FaithOneya, [email protected]

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