When will the men of Africa awake from patriarchy? When will our fathers, brothers, and partners come to understand that there is not a successful man behind every powerful women?
This past August, while on a diplomatic mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a question rooted in divine sexism. A male university student asked the US Secretary of State what her husband, former president Bill Clinton, thinks about the involvement of China and the World Bank in contracts in the Congo.
Hillary answered boldly, unwaveringly: “My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am!” she said. “So you ask me what I think, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband.”
Her answer was not sweet honey for the men living in the cocoon of gender inequality. On several occasions during her rise to power, Mrs. Clinton has contributed personal opinions on Mr. Bill Clinton’s account. But this time, she refused to allow her intellect, skill, and power be assessed under the shadow of her husband.
Some pundits went so far as to say that she was a mess—describing her answer as disrespectful and not diplomatic. ‘How so?’ I ask. Hillary Clinton did not earn her credential as the Secretary of State because she bears the last name of Mr. Bill Clinton, who happens to be a former President of the US. She proved to the whole world that she is a worthy leader, driven by a powerful force that desires change and gender equality. The glass sealing she broke seeking the mandate of the people, for the highest office, was not because she is a former First Lady, but because she is a woman with acumen in state legislation and public service.
I find fault in the kinds of questions and sentiments that aim to underrate women in the decision-making process. Questions like the one that was asked of Hillary only seek to examine the ability and wisdom of a woman leader against the popularity of men. It aimed at challenging the power of a woman, the circumstances for which she acquires power and the influence of that power. Moreover, the question bore the uncensored description of the marginal role of women as defined by the rule of men in Africa.
I have noted with concern that it is not in DRC only that the marginalization of women of this magnitude occurred. The same happened during Hillary Clinton’s visit to Kenya just a few days before she arrived in DRC. A Kenyan man, Godwin Kemboi, took pride to remind Hillary about an offer of cows and goats he made in 2001 to Mr. Bill Clinton in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Somehow, I am embarrassed of my heritage while listening to Kemboi defend his proposal and declare that he would have added more cattle if Mr. Clinton would ask an additional price for his daughter.
How can a man of Kemboi’s caliber and stature turn a blind eye to the challenge of gender inequality in Kenya—where fathers and other male relations force young women into unwanted marriages?
I cannot quit thinking that it is men like Kemboi or pundits who suggest that Hillary should have dealt with her fury in private who undermine efforts towards gender equality, equity, and the empowerment of women. Their hearts are filled with the low opinion that a woman’s worth is determined by men, for men. With a bullying and patronizing character, they bypass women in the decision-making process, and can hardly heed feminine advice.
This is a disgrace that women in Africa must not condone. It is injustice against women for such African men to override their capital interests with ego and chauvinism while denying the abilities, skills, and talents of women leaders who have performed better in bringing forth development, peace, and stability in the continent. It is also distasteful that at a time like this—when women in DRC are battling the atrocities of war, when girls in many parts of Africa are fighting for the right to education, a right that their fathers have denied to earn a dowry—a few men in Africa choose to believe that women are inferior and incapable.
African women must mirror their abilities against the daring spirit of Hillary Clinton and demand that men respect us for who we are. Our feminine call is to empower women and stir development. We cannot afford to sit back, wail in private at every humiliation, and allow the faulty leadership of patriarchy to continue. It is time now for African women to rise from under the shadows of being told that we are not good enough to a place of substance. Power shall not be given to us on a fine silver platter. We must fight for it and vow to stay no more under the shadow of patriarchy.