How social media sexism, misogyny heightened after August poll

A social media user. Some online users perpetuate the norm that leadership is a male domain and women venturing into it is an aberration not healthy for society.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • After women's overwhelming performance in the August election, Kenyans flooded social media, sharing perspectives on their triumph.
  • There is a conservative perception that assumes women can't lead by virtue of their reproductive anatomy.
  • Some social media posts serve to “reinforce a stereotype against women's capacity to lead.

Soon as provisional results showed six women had been elected in Nakuru County including a governor, senator, and four Members of Parliament, Kenyans flooded social media, sharing perspectives on their triumph.

Nakuru is now a model county for having attained the two-thirds electoral quota enshrined in Article 27(8) of the Constitution through the ballot.

But hidden in those views were misleading perceptions.

An account @DJ_Nonsense254 shared a photo of the elected women with a comment: “Life will be difficult for the people of Nakuru if (all) its leaders menstruate on the same week.” This account has since been suspended.

A screenshot of a post by a Twitter account holder @Dj_Nonsense254 tweeted on August 12, 2022. It spread a misleading perception about women's leadership. Twitter has since suspended the account for violating its rules.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

The shared view had by the time of going to press attracted 1,424 likes, 313 retweets, and 49 quote tweets, these showing the magnitude of the spread of the wrong view of women.

Is there truth to the Twitter user’s claim?

I pose these questions to three experts.

Everlyne Komba, an international gender specialist says the narrative is a conservative perception that assumes women cannot lead by virtue of their reproductive anatomy, yet the world over women lead top institutions or blue chip companies.

“By the time a woman seeks such kind of a position, she knows how to manage herself and she has mastered the art of emotional intelligence,” she says.

In fact, women-led countries such as New Zealand, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Taiwan handled Covid-19 better than those headed by men, a study by Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum found in 2020.

Dr Okumba Miruka, a development consultant, says the remark is based on the illogical idea that when in their periods, women are moody and prone to making irrational decisions, and mismanaging people under them.

The narrative, he says is also pronounced in some religions that regard menses as unclean hence, women undergoing it should not attend prayers.

“Menses is now managed by available sanitary pads hence, does not have to result in poor hygiene. Denying women positions or presence in public spaces due to menses is plain discriminatory and uses a private matter to perpetuate exclusion,” he says.

Mercy Njoroge, Gender Media Trainer at Journalists for Human Rights says the statement serves to “reinforce a stereotype against women's capacity to lead. It disregards efforts made by women to compete for elective seats.”

Another Twitter user @Son_of_Laikipia shared a satirical image of a man cooking ugali on a wood-burning stove with his head inside the chimney. He accompanied the image with a statement: “Nakuru men in their rightful place 🤣.”

The tweet has since attracted 5,193 likes, 1,159 retweets, and 125 quote tweets.

Does this claim hold water?

Ms Komba considers the image a wake-up call to the Kenyan community.

She describes it as a recognition of the unpaid labour that women shoulder and the need for redistribution.

“There is nothing wrong with men cooking. Unpaid work holds women back and the fact that this image has been shared means that the community is ready for a conversation on how to free women from unpaid labour to get into paid labour.”

Ms Njoroge explains that the intention of the image is to spread a message that women demean men when they get into leadership, a view meant to create an impression that women cannot lead men.

Dr Okumba says: “This photo equates women's ascension to power with men's emasculation.”

He further explains: “It is similar to the patriarchal interpretation of the Gikuyu story of Wangu wa Makeri as a tyrannical chief who brutalised men.”

Further, he says, the photo stereotypes cooking as a woman’s role hence, men who engage in it are emasculated, which trivialises the chore from being seen as a life skill necessary for both men and women.

He concludes: “Read together, the photos want to perpetuate the norm that leadership is a male domain and women venturing into it is an aberration not healthy for society.”