• As we celebrated International Women’s Day last Thursday, there’s one question we ought to ask ourselves
  • Where did we go wrong as far as the empowerment agenda is concerned?

When the European came up with the drive for women empowerment in 1909, they had noble ideas.

All they wanted was to help women world over get empowered economically, enjoy basic human rights like voting, property ownership, especially land and ensure gender equality on matters such as education.

Unfortunately, some feminism activists hijacked the idea, watered it down and, instead, not only launched a gender war, but also began competing with men to outdo each other in ‘bad manners’.

The battle of the sexes, instead of women empowerment, has led a situation where a gain for them must entail a corresponding loss for men. What women forget is that when men lose, family loses and that being the case, then, technically, it’s a loss for women and children, too.

“Instead of aspiring to be better mothers, women of today want to compete with men in all the negative vices. They have, for instance, taken over bars and nyama choma. The modern woman is no longer the coy, subservient tea-loving and church going female of old,” says Felix Alushula, a Nairobi-based social worker.

Alushula complains that the average modern woman has turned herself into a soccer addict, meat-eating and beer-guzzling she-man. In Nairobi and other urban centres, they have invaded male territory.

The running joke in Nairobi is that unlike in the past when women used to cook like their mothers, nowadays they drink and sleep around like their fathers.

The joke further goes, many have become duplicates of the very men their mothers warned them against marrying! For these woman, the bar is their altar, meat their sacrament and booze their wine.

For the longest time, the bar was the place that men met to bond and discuss ‘business’ and the only females present were the barmaid or ladies of the night moonlighting for an extra coin.

“Women empowerment was meant to make them better, not to copy or compete with men, especially on indiscretions and all manner of behaviour that goes against laws, rules and regulations and general social code of conduct,” says Peter Oduor, a librarian who complains of how he was conned by two women in Nairobi in a fake land deal.

“Some of the best cons in this city are women, remember the NYS scandal?” he asks rhetorically. When they are not trying to outdo men in shouting, they try to compete with husbands in getting home late, complains Oduor.

Women had a low opinion of bars, associating them with prostitution and sin. And they hated beer, which they termed bitter.

They often wondered why anyone in their right minds would enjoy that swill. On the rare occasion when they reluctantly drank alcohol, after being urged on by their dates, they preferred sweetened stuff like Woodpecker Cider and Sherry.

Whiskies, brandies, Vodkas and chang’aa were regarded men’s drinks.

Nyama choma was also a male bonding thing — away from spouses and girlfriends, who considered the bloodied chunks nothing more than a source of intestinal worms, greed and wastage of money.

The meat was naturally escorted down by beer. The resulting potbellies not only rankled women, but were also the subject of many a female magazine lampooning men’s bedroom failures.

But how times changed! Now, women with potbellies, courtesy of the very beer and nyama choma they once hated, are common.

From rural village markets to the cities, the Kenyan woman has invaded the male sanctuary that was the bar, and can out-drink men any day, anytime. Calling the shots at the bar counter, men now meekly elbow it out with women for space and staggering rights.

The so-called empowered women of today are reckless with their health

“In campus, when you call for a bash, the first question slay queens ask is ‘kuna weed cookies’? Na bangi ama shisha? When you say no, they quip, ‘hio bash itabamba kweli?’ A clear indication that they are coming to compete with boys to prove ‘who is the man’,” chuckles Kevin Kimani, a university student in Nairobi.

The so-called empowered women of today are reckless with their health.

If you frequent the highly decadent smoky beer joints to the ‘yuppified’ entertainment spots during weekends, you won’t have failed to see women ordering juicy steaks and giving stern instructions to, of all people, male workers.

“Usikate hiyo ya mafuta! Wee wacha ujinga — sitaki mifupa! Na utengeneze kachumbari poa, pili pili kiasi. (Don’t make it too fatty. Wait, don’t be silly, no bones! And prepare proper vegetable salad, with some chili)…” is a common statement in pub butcheries.

As a rule, these alpha women are wild, ‘independent’ and loud, and they do not cow from getting into a verbal bout with men who try to demean them. If you follow them to their seats, you will notice that the table is ‘forested’ with traditionally masculine drinks like tear-inducing Vodkas and Guinness lager, the original alpha male’s poison of choice.

Nowadays, it hardly raises eyebrows when a woman offers to open your beer using a beer bottle, or their teeth, which until recently was a macho thing.

“Mabibi nao mtatafuta (you young men will have trouble getting wives),” an aged security guard mocked one of these writers in an inspired father-son banter about the state-of-affairs in the city. But how did we get here?

Paul Omondi, an anthropologist, blames it all on college education and women empowerment campaigns. He believes that drinking is pretty much like a sub-culture that young women pick during college as young adults.

“Drinking, smoking and reckless sexual behaviour are habits most women acquire in college and nver let go, especially when they are financially empowered,” Omondi says.

Women empowerment, the anthropologist argues, was never meant to help women catch up with men in misdemeanour.

It was, he says, was aimed at making women to have better judgement and perhaps help men reform for the good of the family and society at large.

“The campaign is aimed at arming women with better saving skills, enlightenment on their rights, property ownership and being better leaders, among others,” says Omondi, adding that it is not about helping women be equal to men, even in the face of social and biological impossibility.

“The campaign is about equity not equality, because the latter can’t be achieved for obvious reasons. Women, for instance, can’t have same endurance levels as men, and men and give birth,” he says.

While men have retained their lead in vices such as alcoholism, violence, dangerous driving, suicide and criminality, women have closed the gap.

Unlike back in the day, they are now a close second in all these vices. For instance, in almost every gang of five, two are women.

We now have female rapists, killers for hire, husband batterers, suicide bombers and carjackers.

Initially, like beer or engaging in reckless behaviour such as keeping multiple sexual partners, soccer madness was a male bonding experience- an escape from the domineering wife or girlfriend, for a therapeutic session with the boys and much needed breathing space.

Today, it’s common to see a woman strip to her bra and biker and wail her lungs out, cheering her favourite football team. In the bar, a bespectacled, bearded man with an unsightly potbelly can jump on top of the table without feeling embarrassed and can be forgiven, especially if he is an Arsenal fan.

But such wild whoops of delight increasingly come from women these days. It is a far cry from our mothers’ days when woman stayed at home, knitting, sewing, cooking, cleaning, gossiping and plaiting their hair while waiting patiently for mzee — whom they treated like a king — to come home from work.

Everywhere you turn, no empowerment but battle of the sexes.

In the bedroom, women want to be on top; the wardrobe is invaded and his two coats and one jacket pushed behind to create 80 per cent worth of space for her majesty.

The shoe rack only has his two pairs of shoes, while her 23 pairs resemble a shoe market. In the bathroom, his torn boxers and the shaving thingamajig are the only things that suggest he exists.