Women do not need props to leadership, boy's club beware

Kwale Governor Fatuma Achani is among seven women elected as governors in the just concluded 2022 General Election. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

This is my tribute and hearty congratulations to all women elected to various leadership positions in the just concluded elections.

From MCAs to governors, you have shown that women do not need to be propped up to attain the highest levels of leadership. With a record seven governors, three senators and 26 MPs, duly elected, the girl-child is most certainly inching her way to the very centre of the jealously guarded council of elders.

And if Azimio prayers are answered by both heaven and the Supreme Court, Kenya might just join the US in crowning the first woman Deputy President. You are sending shivers in the boy's club - that a coup could be in the offing.

It has always been my position that women do not need crutches to help them limp into higher strata of leadership.

With a level playing field, and a conducive environment, women can fight for themselves and easily outmanoeuvre men to rise to the highest echelons.

Therefore, we do a disservice to our women when we make it appear like they can only break the glass ceiling by climbing up the ladder of affirmative action. In as much as affirmative action is a great concept, it is a steppingstone that must eventually be abandoned. It has at times worked against the cause of women.

According to Madeline Heilman of New York University, research indicates that in selection or election, people discount the role of merit as criteria when an individual is perceived to have benefited, not because of what they merit, but because of the social group they belong to.

Thus a woman who ascends to leadership purely through affirmative action may become tainted with a stigma of incompetence when in fact they may be quite qualified for the position they hold.

The recent election of the many women into positions of leadership also shows that our democracy is maturing, and our people are shedding off some of their cultural lenses. The seismic trend is even stronger in appointive positions.

The Judiciary is currently fully led by two women occupying the positions of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice - positions attained through competitive recruitment. Rebecca Miano heads the strategic Kenya Electricity Generating company (KenGen), while EABL picked Jane Karuku to be its Group Managing Director and CEO in 2020. Carole Kariuki has become a household name as CEO of Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), while Agnes Gathaiya is the Country Director for Google in East Africa.

The list is certainly long, but it warms the heart to see women rising to the occasion, and showing gender is a non-issue when it comes to leadership.

To the contrary, women are proving the adage that what a man can do, a woman can do even better.

Coincidentally, with the arrival of Meg Whitman as the new US Ambassador to Kenya, the country now hosts at least four women at the helm of critical diplomatic positions. Madam Zainab Hawa Bangura is UN Under-Secretary General and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi; Jane Marriot is the British High Commissioner to Kenya; Meg Whitman is the US Ambassador; and Henritte Geiger is the European Union Ambassador to Kenya. This means some of the most important international deals have to be negotiated with these powerful women.

The implication is that for any progressive thinking individuals, organisations, and nations, the place of women in leadership is no longer a matter of conjecture. Women no longer need to go to the streets to fight for space at the decision making table, nor do they want to be fed on the crumbs of affirmative action.

Our women have shown that they have what it takes to play in the super league of corporate and national leadership. That is why the new Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza defied the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza waves to win the coveted position as an independent candidate.

In this election, mothers and aunties, cousins and little sisters, have braved the gruelling battles of the campaign trail, and like Safari Rally drivers, have romped home in victory. Kudos to wamama na wadada!