The names of Kenya’s military Generals are too familiar and consistent with one thing that is common in the military - there are no women on the list.
Although women have made progress in other spheres of life in the 21st century, they still lag behind in matters military. In the last 50 years since independence for instance, no woman has risen beyond the rank of Colonel.
According to sources, our military has always shied away from releasing the figures outlining the ratios between men and women for fear of exposing their huge gender gap. The Constitution advocates for a gender ratio of not more than two thirds of one gender in any recruitment exercise.
There were roughly 1,000 women in the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) out of over 30,000 men as at December 2014, according to Global Fire Power.
Women have found it difficult to rise in military ranks due to KDF’s patriarchal hierarchy, in which all the top commanders in the Navy, Air Force and Army, the Chief of Defence Forces and head of National Defence College, are men.
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Indeed, the male-dominated military culture has forced women soldiers to ‘stay in their lanes,’ as those in uniform like to say. The bottom line is that the women, for decades, have spent decades trying to blend in, not stand out.
Although sources indicated that the highest serving woman in the military is a Colonel, the KDF Spokesperson, Colonel Willy Wesonga, did not respond to our request for clarification before going to press.
The Kenya Air Force is one of the military’s organs where women have made tremendous progress.
“The air women are currently deployed in all the squadrons of the Air Force alongside their male colleagues where they have matched their performance or done even better by excelling in fields that were previously dominated by men,” Major Joan Kwambai, an operations officer at Laikipia Air Base, writes in the book, The Kenya Air Force Story: 1964-2014.
The book that was released this June to commemorate the air force’s golden jubilee also notes that Major Bernadette Kikech was the first aviation engineering female officer in the air force, while in the non-commissioned cadre, Corporal Njura and Corporal Kabibi were the pioneers.
In 2006, Major Norah Koech made history by becoming the first female pilot in the air force. She has since been followed by the likes of Lieutenant Sabala, who completed her pilot training course in South Africa.
Another female officer, Second Lieutenant Ngaine, is currently undergoing pilot training in South Africa.