In 2011, former US President Barack Obama proclaimed March as the Women’s History Month.
This month has its roots in the International Women’s Day, which is celebrated today.
This year’s campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange. We are not only celebrating women who took the step to be bold for change, but also challenging everyone to take calculated and intentional bold steps to effect change in their own small way.
It is one way to kick off the International Women’s Day, which is annually observed by the United Nations and other countries across the globe, to kick-start conversations about the issues that disproportionately affect women.
Although women have made several remarkable strides towards equality, there is still a lot left to be done, and this year’s theme could not have come at a better time. We are living in interesting times, when women are not only actively participating in the voting process, but also making waves in the political process. Think US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
We are also living at a time when the question is not if women can run corporates, break the glass ceiling, but how many women are running corporates. Think Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors and Sheryl Sandberg Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.
The issue is no longer about if women can excel in male-dominated fields such as technology; the issue today is how we can get more women into these fields that were supposedly a reserve for the men. Several names come to mind; Judith Owigar, founder of Akirachix and Dr Evangeline Chao, a computer science lecturer at Kenya Methodist University who also mentors young women into the world of tech.
She is very ambitious is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious, powerful, and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.”
- Sherly Sandberg, author
Gender is a prickly matter. A divisive issue that has mistakenly been left to feminists and women’s rights crusaders. But it need not be this divisive, for the gender issue is both a male and a female issue that needs to be addressed openly and bluntly. Of course, observing a day like that that celebrates women does not make men any smaller, nor does it downplay the importance of men. It just serves to remind us that we ought to remind girls and women that they too, could and should advance with boldness.
Indeed, one is reminded of the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her book: We Should All Be Feminists. The Nigerian author candidly put it: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man…’”
Sherly Sandberg in her best-selling book, Lean In, published in 2015, echoed these words so poignantly with laser-sharp focus on the challenges of today’s ambitious woman. “She is very ambitious is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious, powerful, and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.”
This year’s mantra serves to dismantle every can’t-do-it attitude instilled in every girl and every woman. The theme is really about encouraging women and girls to not be shy about going for what they want. That they should charge forward, and charge real hard, without the fear of being labelled ‘too ambitious’ or ‘too bold’ or ‘manly’. It simply serves to tell all girls and all women, “Don’t just think big. Think Great. Don’t just be brave. Be bold.”
It is for this reason that we celebrate the women whose lives has been a testimony of boldness, bravery and audacity. Those women who listened to the right voices in their lives, who beat the terrain for those behind them. We are today celebrating those women who cautiously forged on to greatness, with or without the support of a society that was for a long time, too timid to talk about gender issues.
But as we celebrate these exceptional women who have spectacularly broken barriers, we must not forget some very crucial issues.
First, according to a 12-country, 2015 research by African Development Bank, out of 2,865 board of directors seats, only 364 were held by women. This means that women held a paltry 12.7 per cent of all board seats of Africa’s top listed companies. The report also found that out of the 12 countries sampled (including South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda), Kenya has the highest percentage of women on boards, at 19.8 per cent. Although Kenya seems to be doing comparatively, better, less than 20 per cent representation is unacceptable in a country with so many emancipated and educated women.
Furthermore, in Kenya, women comprise 52 per cent of the Kenyan population and 60 per cent of the country’s electorate, but political representation is heavily skewed in favour of men. Between 2007 and 2013, the population of women in Parliament has remained dismally low, at 9.8 per cent in 2007 to 19.5 per cent in 2013.
These numbers must change in favour of women. Not because women are ‘our sisters, daughters and mothers’, but because as Hillary Clinton said in her remarkable 1995 Beijing Speech, “Women’s rights are human rights.”
This article initially appeared in the Daily Nation in Kenya
New Era Reporter
2019-03-08 10:13:23 | 11 months ago