Tackle systemic issues that hinder women from engaging fully in public life

A woman heads to her sorghum field in Turkana County in June 2020. [File, Standard]

Imagine this: It’s August 2027 and thousands of Kenyans are cheering as a new president is sworn in after gruelling political campaigns. But unlike other times, this time around the new president is a woman.

Is that possible in Kenya? What would it take to have a woman president in Kenya?

Those are questions that we need to ask ourselves as we mark this year’s International Women’s Day whose theme is, ‘Inspiring Inclusion’. There is no doubt about the profound impact women have made and continue to make in every sphere of life.

From the boardroom to the classroom, and from the laboratory to the studio, women’s contributions shape our world in ways both seen and unseen.

But at the same time, women still bear the brunt of systemic exclusion in many spheres of life. And it is not just in Kenya. A 2021 Report of the United Nations Secretary-General acknowledged that progress had been made in women’s representation at different levels, mainly through legislated gender quotas, and the impact of women’s participation in decision-making and civil society.

However, the report said these were being negated by systemic challenges, which included the increasing levels of violence perpetrated against women in public life and harmful practices. Not to mention specific challenges encountered by marginalised women who face several forms of discrimination.

Specifically, it bemoaned how violence against women in public life threatened their participation. “It has seemingly increased as more women have gained access to power,” the report said, adding that perpetrators intend to stop women from accessing power and silence them so as to limit their perspectives in policy formulation.

It noted that women politicians had been killed in office, left their positions after receiving death threats or withdrawn from elections citing abuse.

Women voters, candidates and election administrators have also faced targeted, gender-based violence in elections. Online, gender-based abuse, cyberbullying and sexual harassment is increasingly common against women active in public life.

In Kenya, these are things we see every electioneering year.

Whereas the number of women candidates has increased over the years, many more are still scared of participating in politics due to violence and other unorthodox tactics that their male opponents deploy.

This points to the urgent need to tackle systemic issues that hinder women from fully engaging in public life. It is a call to reaffirm our leaders’ commitment to fostering an inclusive environment where every voice is heard and valued.

Inspiring inclusion goes beyond mere representation; it’s about creating spaces where diversity thrives, where differences are embraced, and where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or background.

Furthermore, creating an inclusive society is not the sole responsibility of institutions; it requires collective action from every member of society. Men must be allies in the fight for gender equality, using their privilege to amplify the voices of women and advocate for change. Likewise, women must support and uplift one another, forging networks of solidarity that transcend societal divides.

We must also take cognisant of the fact that building an inclusive society is a journey, not a destination. It requires ongoing dialogue, introspection, and action to dismantle systemic barriers and create pathways for every individual to thrive.

As we reflect on the theme of inspiring inclusion, let us also recognise that true inclusion requires intentional action.

It requires us to challenge existing norms and systems that perpetuate inequality, amplify marginalised voices, and create opportunities for meaningful participation. It requires us to listen, learn, and empathise with experiences different from our own.

Together, we can build a more inclusive world where every woman and girl can thrive, where diversity is celebrated, and where equality is not just a dream but a reality.

Happy International Women’s Day!