2021: A momentous year for the East African woman

Tanzania's President Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. [REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo]

2021 is a momentous year for the East African woman.

She can execute any role, given the opportunity - including leading a country. While it is extremely sad that the biggest advocate for women empowerment, President John Pombe Magufuli, died in March, his words are permanently edged in my memory.

He said: “Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan is a resourceful and a hardworking leader. She is experienced in public matters, having held ministerial positions and her academic training rightly blends with my vision for Tanzania. Her work as a minister and vice president continues to benefit the Tanzania people.”

America also ushered in a female Vice President, Kamala Harris, and that reveals the onerous task that President Joe Biden, and all leaders, have in championing advancement of women empowerment across all sectors. Not forgetting the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala as the first woman and African to hold the office of Director General of the World Trade Organisation.

Better Kenya

This eternal legacy bestows upon us a new resolve as women and Kenyans in general to take up the mantle of opening up further spaces to enable women reach their utmost potential.

Policies and legislation within corporate entities as well as in the public sphere at both county and national levels should guide the vision for a better Kenya, where boys and girls in school, men and women at the workplace naturally enjoy equal opportunities at all times.

The society’s expectations on deliverables from any officeholder should be gauged by results, not the gender or goodwill of the office holder.

While we celebrate President Suluhu’s ascendancy to power, we cannot rest until the conversation tilts towards communal acceptance that either a boy or a girl, a man or a woman have an important contribution to make in improving livelihoods as well as helping generate products that enhance profitability of businesses.

Women continue penetrating professions formerly ‘reserved’ for men from driving matatus, being conductors and mechanics as well as taking up sciences that enable them to pursue careers in technology, engineering and medicine, among others.

At Absa, we are pushing the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda, placing special focus on supporting women in the workplace via special coaching and mentoring initiatives that open new opportunities for them. These employees have women’s networks that champion women causes, thereby opening new fronts for career advancement.

Last year, Absa announced a Sh10 billion credit to women-owned small and medium enterprises and partnered with the International Trade Centre to enable women businesses to participate in the global export/import trade. Today more than 4,500 women have benefited from this programme.

In the Judiciary, Kenya has acting Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu and in elective politics, Anne Waiguru, Charity Ngilu and the late Joyce Laboso were popularly elected as Kirinyaga, Kitui and Bomet governors respectively. Prof Margaret Kamar, Susan Kihika and Fatuma Dullo also clinched senatorial seats in Uasin Gishu, Nakuru and Isiolo counties respectively. Kenya’s women representation in Parliament also increased by six from 16 in 2013 to 22 in the 2017 elections.

In the corporate space, Rebecca Miano heads listed power generator KenGen, while listed regional brewer EABL has Ms Jane Karuku at the helm. Limuru Tea’s CEO is Gerridina Den, Marion Gathoga-Mwangi is at BOC Kenya, Margaret Odhiambo is the MD at Eveready while Nozipho Makhoba heads Stanlib.

The momentous progress of women does not dim prospects for men’s progress but affirms the existence of a mutual advancement path that advances public good as aligned to the Sustainability Development Goals on planet, profits and people. It is therefore important that both women and men locally and globally work together to address vulnerabilities concerning women.

Cultural practices

A more inclusive world necessitates transforming how we behave and how we #choosetochallenge not just systemic inequalities but our own biases too. Driving societal change and challenging the status quo is never easy — cultural shifts do not happen overnight, but the best part about any change is that it can begin with one person at a time and that one person can be you.

Dealing with deep-rooted anti-women practises anchored on cultural practices dating back centuries is an arduous journey that is far from being won. Leaders in public and private sectors must stand up to make a difference by promoting inclusion. Let us be deliberately inclusive in all that we do, starting with how we raise our children and shape their ideologies.