Why this hostility against women in Africa?

In the now highly acclaimed TED talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story”, award-winning author Chimamanda Adichie makes the point that when you show a person as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, that is what they become.

In other words, to define a person, especially to define a person in the media, perception is more important than reality. Women leaders in Kenya have been especially susceptible to twisted attacks by a male-dominated patriarchal system that is unable and unwilling to countenance women as part of the power structure.

Women in this country are routinely targets of double standards and are judged more harshly than their male counterparts. While male leaders are allowed to have complex personalities and given a comfortable learning curve to make mistakes and figure things out, women in power are often derided as rank amateurs and not expected to offer more than token leadership.

Why the outright hostility, one might ask? Gender as we are aware is a social construct and leadership in African societies tends to be a trait almost exclusively attributed to men. Our African male leaders are variously seen as heroic, charismatic, commanding, competitive, creative, cut-throat, masterful and all wise.

There is simply no room for women to fit into these masculine archetypes of leadership. The few female leaders are seen as the exception and often as socially and professionally deviant.

Consequently, women get pigeon-holed and labelled by narrow and limiting language. They become caricatures to be tolerated at best and ridiculed and vilified at worst. It takes a huge leap of the imagination to move from this socialisation.

The attacks against Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru must be seen in this context. The Cord Coalition has in the last couple of months led a sustained, targeted and deliberate campaign against the person and reputation of Anne Waiguru.

It is not lost on anyone that by contrast, men in her position do not get to suffer such personal attacks and on such a scale.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations for example is investigating an alleged loss of more than Sh550 million through fraudulent procurement by Parliament staff.

A local daily says that the money is reported to have been lost in the same way NYS cash was siphoned out and that investigations were triggered by a complaint by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi.

To date, not a single call has been made for the resignation of the Speaker despite a few arrests. Why the double standards when the circumstances of the fraud and investigations are exactly the same as the ones regarding Ms Waiguru?

Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich admitted days ago that the Government is broke due to inefficient collection of revenue, heavy borrowing and generally poor cash flow management. Jacob Kaimenyi on the other hand has had one of the worst stints at the Ministry of Education with many feeling that he lacks the competence and acumen to manage such a sensitive docket.

None of these gentlemen have had to endure any vicious attacks on their person or fend of repeated calls for their resignation.

The double standards exhibited shamelessly against Ms Waiguru should give us pause and make us question what it all means to our nascent democracy. What is at stake here, I think, is not merely the reputation of an exemplary public officer (even her critics agree that Ms Waiguru is the one of the hardest working and most competent State officers).

These desperate caricature attacks are aimed at intimidating women leaders as a whole and potentially undermining the perception of women’s capacity to lead.

We are witnessing a dangerous stereotype being propagated of women leaders being arrogant and undeserving.

It is these stereotypes that we must push back against; stereotypes that are deliberately designed to rob our women leaders of dignity and legitimacy.