The concern and inclusion of women in leadership position and decision making was not of central concern to most governments prior to the first women’s conference held in 1975 in Mexico. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is on record 1998 advising women of Zimbabwe not to get married if they want to own land and get into leadership position. President Museveni of Uganda in the year 2000 during the women’s international day urged the women not to commercialise their marriage if they want equality. President Daniel Moi in 1995 watered down the action points from the Beijing platform for action saying ‘if women want equality what job is left for men now” (Tamala, 2004). This clearly demonstrates how difficult it was to address gender issues. However the Kenya Government has made progress in the area of policy, legal and institutional framework, but the implementation of these provisions, particularly the area of decision making and women participation at grassroots is still lagging behind.
Elderly and illiterate women get nominated to school committees just to fulfil the gender gap, where they are positioned as treasurers just to append their signatures while they cannot even explain the expenditures. With very little allowance, they cover corruption that goes on in the school committees. This to me is a psychological violence to the elderly women and must end. I have witness this during evaluation of community projects in different parts of Kenya. The absence of well-informed women in local leadership positions in equal proportional to their numbers has a direct effect on their personal development, quality of life and decision making process.
The representation of women in positions of leadership is not proportional to their numbers. Women still have minimal access to information, education opportunities and even decision making process. (Bergdall, 1995) says it is not only tragic but dehumanizes since they are the caretakers of families and should give input to planning and development agenda. ( Synader and Tadesse 1995) quoting Robert Gardiner underscored key function of women participation saying “it is close to impossible to overcome ignorance without the women who are the first teachers out of our children”. This means that women play a key role in education, regrettably they are not actively involved in key decision making at grass roots; leave alone the higher learning, where most heads of departments are men. In Kenya out of fifteen public universities only one vice chancellor is a lady. For this reason I have taken personal initiative to motivate girls and women at grassroots to take education matters more seriously.
A chicken and egg situation; where poverty contributes to girl’s poor education performance and vice- versa. I met several girls from rural schools fetching firewood after school to support their parents and guardians. Regrettably some boys do follow girls in places where they are fetching firewood and considering their vulnerability some of them are raped, while others are introduced into early sexual relationship!!!, leading to teenage pregnancy and early marriages. I am left wondering where are the women leaders?, Are they really aware of what is happening to their children and other fellow women?, and if so what are they doing about it? Are women really empowered with information to be able to make informed opinion and choices? Are women well represented in any key school committees or board? Do they have a platform to be heard and to make critical decisions?, are elderly women really happy to be used in the said committees due to their vulnerability?, Do they get intimidated and therefore fear victimization and cannot speak their mind? How are the appointments and nominations done? Is it free and fair? Who should be blamed, culture, religion, bad governance, systems or women themselves? Is it poverty or ignorance or dependency syndrome?
The motivational talks to girls in primary schools have yielded positive impact despite the transport constraints to enable wider coverage; we remained sensitive to the needs of the girls and women to restore their sense of pride, hope and confidence to take responsibility of their suffering. During a visit to Kilifi County, we realize high teenage pregnancy and in my quest for answer, I was led to a youth scene as early as 9A.M, the youth converge for smoking and drinking coconut wine placing themselves strategically to lure vulnerable girls into sex with few coins for buying “ndazi” doughnuts. The men on the other hand wake up to drinking and back home demanding for food and sex. The women here are frustrated, the circle of illiteracy goes round and therefore taking education matters seriously for their children may not be important or a priority. Their children are infested with jiggers, which affects their concentration in schools and further contributes to poor school attendance and hence poor education performance.
When women participate actively in decision making organs such as education, they gain the ownership of education process themselves; feel empowered and confident in contributing to education matters of their children. Hopefully women participation in education would motivate even the illiterate mothers to go for adult education. When the education standard of a given community is improved that community is able to develop holistically and make businesses and network, thereby becoming socially economically and politically empowered. You will agree with me that it is easy to bend a tree while it’s small than when it’s fully grown. Ladies let us participate actively and effectively in our children education at all costs. Let us try our best to show them the way while they are young than condemning the situation once it’s out of hand. Nothing good comes for free, we must work for it. It is time to pick the tools with our power of influence and participate actively in the change we want, being aware of cultural barriers, region and top down government approaches. Women you are the backbone of development go go go girl!!!
Achieng Jayne Wasonga (Nyapaul)