The United States of America (USA) is yet to settle into a new presidency. They have had one of the most drawn out democratic processes. Amid the drama, it has been beautiful to watch the excitement with which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has been greeted.
Her election generated an almost euphoric wave across the globe and Kenyans are quite a voluble lot in such celebrations. No, Kamala Harris is not Kenyan. We just have an indefatigable ability to centre ourselves in other people’s victories, geographical limitations notwithstanding. It can be an inexplicable phenomenon why Kenyans overly celebrate such victories. After all, we are not close to entertaining the idea of a woman deputy president at home, let alone a free and fair election. But that is a different elephant.
Twitter was awash with congratulatory messages to Kamala, the first ever woman Vice President in American history.
From Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi to Nairobi Woman representative Esther Passaris, everyone was in a hurry to congratulate her. The responses to these congratulatory messages were a diverse mix of taunts, dismissals and nods.
However, Passaris’ congratulatory tweet was met with an all too familiar uproar, reserved for women in leadership in this country. She was taken to task on what she, and other women leaders have done in their positions of “power” here. A most hypocritical accountability clause was only mildly and briefly brought against male politicians. It is an apparent double standards that plays into deliberate systemic failures, perpetuated by a united gentleman’s club that is our political sphere.
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A Boys Club that in addition to running the country down to its knees, exhibits a concerted effort to hinder any progress in women’s leadership. I would argue with impeccable success that this is why we cling onto other nations’ progress insofar as women’s leadership is concerned. It gives us a semblance of hope — that it is a possibility. America is, after all, the true global influencer.
We must address the layers of obstacles that women empowerment movement faces in Kenya, if we are to discuss why we haven’t had strides as significant as electing a woman into the high office. It cannot go unnoticed that our feminist movement as a country can be traced back to only 1996 when Charity Ngilu, now Kitui governor, tabled a motion in Parliament to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. Most people do not even know about it because it flopped marvelously.
In the context of a global feminist movement dating back to the 19th century, ours is a fairly new journey. It is highly believed that the feminist movement evolved in America during the civil rights movement, and gradually trickled down to the rest of the world.
Which would explain why in the 20th century, they have a woman vice president-elect. If this is anything to go by, the idea of women in leadership has steadily become a norm in America and other developed countries with the rest of the world only just catching up.
Nearer home, on the floor of Parliament, the so-called honourable members are still astonished by discussions addressing eradication of period poverty to keep girls in school, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, to mention but a few. These are not abstract themes but a reality for many Kenyan women. There is a long way to go and a lot more to overcome for an African woman especially. In a world already informed by Western misogyny, a Kenyan woman has our local gender stereotypes, cultural barriers, bigotry and an emboldened disrespect supported from the top. Remember when a governor slapped a Woman Representative in the full glare of cameras, then denied the act?
We laughed and made memes about the ordeal. Any woman who has dared join the political arena or stand for something that threatens the status quo, has been met with limitless discrimination, violence and coordinated hostility. When you see Kenya’s women leaders and Kenyans in general celebrating wins further afield, understand that while our hope to such fetes is alive and active, our reality is limiting. Our feminism is relatively new, apparently fragmented and frowned upon. Kamala is a product of collective support from men and women.
Kenyans will have to face their disdain for women in power before we can have conversations about our own Kamala. It is not a lack of candidates, but a denial of equal opportunity.
-The writer is a communications officer in Nairobi.