Women still have a long road ahead in achieving gender equality, in spite of the significant gains they have made.
Whereas it is clear that girls are now outperforming boys in the classrooms — as was evident in the KCPE 2017 results where 22 out of the top 35 students were girls — women are still lagging behind in two very crucial areas; the corporate world and politics.
Women remain under-represented in key decision-making platforms such as politics and in the boardrooms.
These were some of the main issues of contention during the Nation Leadership Forum held on Thursday night, whose theme was “Kenya’s Gender Dilemma”.
Steered by a high-profile panel that included Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs Sicily Kariuki, Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso, Mr Mwangi Githaiga, the managing director of Kenya Women’s Finance Trust, Ms Debrah Mallowah, general manager, GlaxoSmithKline East Africa and Mr Kevin Osido, the executive director of County Governance Watch, the gender debate affirmed that the Kenyan woman is yet to fully claim her position at the table.
Within the corporate setting, women have made significant strides, with representation in listed companies’ boardrooms rising to 21 per cent in 2017, an improvement from 14 per cent in 2012 and 18 per cent in 2015. This is according to the recent Leadership and Diversity Survey Report 2017 conducted by the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) between 2016 and 2017.
According to the study, there is one woman for every four men in a listed company’s board. It is interesting to note that Kenya is performing better compared to other countries such as the United States, which stands at 12 per cent women representation on boards, according to a study conducted by Forbes.
Ms Mallowah noted that in light of these improvements, the gender conversation needs to bring men to the table, as women continue to do more to clinch these coveted seats. As an accomplished company executive, Ms Mallowah has some poignant advice for women in the workplace: “Put yourself out there and apply for the job. And when you get to the top … be visible and own the job. Don’t hold back.”
It was noted that women need to be more assertive in the workplace or “lean-in” more, as proposed by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In. Women often shy away from talking about their achievements and capabilities at work, compared to men, who own the work and take on bigger challenges.
The female panellists also agreed that as women, they had to work extra hard to not only get their foot in the door, but also to gain acknowledgement in politics and in the boardroom.
“We work twice as hard to get half the recognition that men get,” said Ms Kariuki. The panellists also agreed that women ought to come out of their shells, apply themselves to competition and unapologetically apply for the top jobs — whether or not they meet all the qualifications.
The issue of the economic empowerment of women, which is continually redefining the providing role of men in society, was also discussed extensively. Now more than ever, women are more educated and financially independent and are bringing more to the table, even splitting family expenses, a duty that was traditionally left to the man.
However, against the background of increased women economic empowerment, it was noted that women, especially in the rural areas, are not beneficiaries of government subsidies and most are not yet financially independent. The particular issue of property ownership was brought to the fore as women in the rural areas continue to be disenfranchised in property ownership.
Mr Githaiga noted that it was impossible to talk about women empowerment without acknowledging the importance of economic empowerment.
“It is easy to assume that women’s economic empowerment has been achieved. However, outside the cities, where majority of women are, that is not the case. To access credit, one must access security. The security needed to access credit is in the hands of men,” said Mr Githaiga.
In politics, Kenya is yet to meet the two thirds gender rule that is enshrined in the Constitution. However, all is not lost.
The August 2017 elections saw several women make history, with three elected senators, three governors and a number of firsts such Naisula Lesuuda, the first woman member of Parliament from the Samburu Community.
Dr Laboso confirmed that although politics is a difficult environment for women, it is possible, with an attitude change.
She also posed a challenge to women who were toying with the idea of getting into politics.
“If today, I am Bomet governor, then anybody can be. Ladies, if you look for it you will get it. Don’t get intimidated. When I was running, I was told, you cannot do it, you are going against a simba(lion), but I chose to speak to the voters,” said Dr Laboso.
By Njoki Chege