I listened to a sermon delivered to about 800 high school girls on television. The title of the sermon was “Who is a virtuous woman?” Listeners were asked to send in text messages and to call in with their ideas of what being virtuous means. A young handsome preacher came on stage and elaborated on who a virtuous woman is. He summed up his sermon in one word: RISK - she takes Responsibility because she does not pity herself (Ruth was a widow in the Christian Bible) but she takes up the challenge facing her and takes BOLD ACTION. She takes Initiative – Ruth chose to follow her dead husband’s mother to a new place. So she is a trail blazer, a pioneer. She makes Sacrifices in order to benefit others by taking a stand on behalf of others. And lastly, she is Knowledgeable – Ruth had information about what was true. According to the preacher, Ruth was hungry and desirous to understand her domain and her power.
This sermon challenged the young women to be responsible, take initiative and be pioneers, stand with others, and to know their power – a beautiful message for high school girls – inspiring them to be whoever they choose to be in life. After all, equity and equality are the right of every woman and man in Kenya. The current political class in Kenya seems to think differently, as their actions show.
Fast forward to life outside school, which I believe each one of the high school girls will experience as they test what they learned at school. A woman steps out to run for a parliamentary seat in a constituency where no woman had run for that position since 1963 when Kenya attained independence. In the shelter of her mother’s kitchen as they sit around the fire, the high school girl Laila hears her mother say: “what is wrong with this woman? What is she looking for going after positions of men? Why does she want to fight with men?”
At the place of worship, Laila hears the man at the pulpit say: “Women should obey their husbands. If her husband wants her to stay at home, that is what she should do.” The government had the opportunity to make the new constitution a true tool of equity and equality in Kenya by nominating women for senior positions in the Judiciary. This did not happen. Laila wondered why in Kenya parents bothered to educate girls if at home, in government, at church and in the community women are treated like third class citizens, who have no voice.
Article 27 (8) of the new Constitution that Kenyan women fought hard to pass at the August 2010 referendum, guarantees women at least a third of all public appointments. Kenya is currently preparing a National Action Plan to implement UNSCR 1325, that requires governments to include women in decision making positions and involve them in peacebuilding processes in their nations.
The imbalance in leadership positions in government and other sectors in Kenya is very disturbing. The impunity with which positions of leadership are being given out to men in the face of the current constitution tells us there lacks a sense of understanding gender equity or equality by our leaders.
Kenyan women must rise up and take the responsibility for their liberation in Kenya because the men will not do it for them. They must take initiative in running for public office in order to close the leadership disparity gap. They have to be willing to sacrifice the fear that runs their lives in order to KNOW their power. Women of Kenya need to know that if they want to free themselves and the country from this position of playing second fiddle to men, they have to take the RISK and KNOW their power like Ruth, whose courage saved a whole nation.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Op-Eds