Regardless of our political affiliations, I am sure we all sense that it’s a new dawn for Kenya.
We have a president-elect. He has made grand promises regarding women. We have seven women governors and many others elected and nominated to various levels, across the political divide. With this new dawn must come a fresh start for women in Kenyan leadership. For the past ten years, we have been embarrassed by various displays of drama, debauchery and dishonourable behaviour by our women leaders. It is time to put girl power to good use.
One thing women badly need is a more friendly business climate. I recently had to contemplate carrying my child to the Kenya Bureau of Standards to get accreditation for a product I’m trying to sell. “Just come, there is a chair,” I was told.
While you can download forms on the KEBS website, you cannot upload them or email them to anyone once filled. You must make your way, in person, and wait 40 business days to get approval. I quickly realised that in order to swiftly get my product on supermarket shelves, I would need to either pay a bribe or forget accreditation. Let’s not get into taxes, goodwill, and queues.
Secondly, can’t some sort of fund be directed towards making sanitary products free, or at least subsidised, for women who cannot afford them? If a billionaire senator, just weeks into office, can agitate for fuel for her car, then surely she can agitate for this cause? If MPs can agitate for salary increases each time a pertussis patient coughs, why can they not seek fund for this more important cause?
Why, thirdly, are things and places so hostile to new mothers? Paid maternity leave, for teachers, is now four months, and paternity leave is 21 days. An improvement, definitely, who will help the mother from the 22nd day of her child’s life – or from the 15th, for those who are not teachers? Not all families can afford the domestic worker's minimum wage. In addition to maternity leave, which for non-teachers is just three months, can mothers not get fewer hours at work, with no reduction in pay? Why not agitate for day-care centres and feeding stations at places of work? Why does every public building have smoking zones, but no breastfeeding zones?
Can we get some accountability regarding our food? Manufacturers must be put to task to label things accurately. “Permitted flavours and colourings” is too vague. What are people ingesting and where does it come from? What is organic and what is not? Why is it possible to get a packet of chevda with an expiry date earlier than the manufacture date?
Fifth, we are losing our girls to materialism. We must create a parallel narrative to the “sponsor” trend that has captured our youth. Must we look decades back to draw inspiration for women? Must we search for mentors abroad? Where are the women, among these seven governors and other leaders, who will show – not just in word, but also in deed and example – that it is possible for a woman to rise without her back to a bed and a handout from a godfather?
Finally: there are too many women in leadership for Kenyan girls to be boarding flights to the Middle East to face abuse. There are too many mothers in government for there to be no compassion – not pity, for pity often sighs but does not act – for these girls. There are too many educated women in this government – young women must not be treated as fools on their watch. If we must temporarily ban all Kenyans from boarding those flights in order to save the lives of a few women, let it be so! Enough is enough!
To our next president, William Samoei Ruto: Ten years may seem like a long time, but it will fly by. The buck for every single thing that goes wrong, even for women, will stop with you. Please do not nominate women to your Cabinet just to meet a quota or fulfil a promise.
Help us decimate the narrative of women being greedy for power but can't lead.