The ‘empowerment’ of women, that is, increasing the spiritual, political, social or economic strength of women, is today increasingly advocated worldwide as societies develop in which women and men enjoy equal opportunities in all spheres of life. General observations suggest, and research has proved, that empowering women is not just a moral issue but a practical one too, vital to sustainable development. Studies have revealed that women make up the vast majority of the world’s poor, two-thirds of the world’s illiterates, and HIV/AIDS is rapidly becoming a woman’s disease. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60 per cent of people living with HIV.
In the past women have often been alienated in many societies, allowing men to take the dominant role in virtually all areas of life, securing for themselves the key positions in the religious, corporate and political worlds, as well as the dominant position in the home. That world, however, is changing. The modern woman has emerged, breaking into leadership circles that were for a long time reserved for men, not least in the political sphere.
Several states and governments around the world are now headed by women, including India, the Philippines, Finland, Liberia, Chile, Canada and Argentina among others (although admittedly that’s out of over 196 countries). Most recently, Helle Thorning-Schmidst was elected as Denmark’s first female Prime Minister.
In many countries women are vying for political power in a way that would once have been unthinkable. In the USA former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Congresswomen Michele Backmann have made their mark in the Republican Party. In Senegal, Aminata Tall, the country’s popular female politician, has become the second woman to declare her candidacy for the presidency with the pledge to end male hegemony. “Men seek power in order to become someone, but women seek power to do something”, Ms Tall declared recently.
In other parts of the world changes have taken place that is aimed at increasing the representation of women in elected politics.
In Wales, part of the United Kingdom, the Welsh Assembly set a world record in May 2003 when it became the first legislative body with equal numbers of men and women. Women’s rights groups hailed the breakthrough after 30 women were elected to the 60-strong assembly. Rwanda, however, has the world’s highest proportion of female members of parliament (56%) according to a study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS…
Several countries have introduced quotas either through constitutional change or national legislation, or through the reform of political parties, in an effort to give women more power (although some critics have argued that this system, on the contrary, prevents an increase in women’s representation).
In Morocco, 10 per cent of parliamentary seats are reserved for women (following the October 2002 elections, the number of female parliamentarians increased from two to an Arab-world record of 35.) In India, 33 per cent of seats at the local government level are reserved for women. In Uganda, a parliamentary seat from each of the 39 districts is reserved for women, resulting in an increase in women’s political representation (some other women are elected to parliament on the non-gender specific reserved seats), whilst In Tanzania 20 per cent of national seats and 25 per cent of local government seats are reserved for women. And in Argentina, the electoral law establishes a compulsory 30 per cent quota for women candidates for elective posts.
The rule of reserved seats has indeed increased women’s representation in the government and is definitely a milestone on the road to the empowerment of women.
WHERE IS KENYA ON THIS ROAD?
At present 9.8 per cent of Kenyan MPs are female, however the situation is likely to change under the new constitution which maintains a one third requirement for either gender in elective bodies, giving the women of Kenya at least 1/3 minimum in elective public bodies (Article 81 (b)).
The new constitution passed in August 2010 stipulated that the number of parliamentary seats should be increased from 210 to 290. The cabinet has decided most if not all of the 80 new parliamentary seats should be reserved for women.
According to a bill ready for debate when Parliament resumes next month, Kenyans will still elect honorable men and women of their choice in the 210 existing constituencies, however political parties will submit lists of names to the Registrar of Political Parties before the election. After the election, Parliament will look at which house has not met the two-thirds rule and will then use the nomination list to ensure the gender rule is met.
Several women, among them Gichugu Member of Parliament Martha Karua and a 27 year-old Kingwa Kamencu who came to the limelight last week, have declared their interest in running for the Presidency come 2012.
BUT ARE WOMEN SOMETIMES THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES?
Women have often been blamed for their own downfall. Take for example a country like Kenya where women are in the majority. Talk to most women in Nairobi and they will tell you that Kenya is not ready for a female president.
In a recent article in The Star’s entitled ‘GET SERIOUS WOMAN!’, columnist Carol Mutoko bluntly told women, ‘the only reason you won’t see the value in what it means for a woman such as yourself or greater than yourself to seek a position in leadership is because you think so little of yourself’, adding that as long as a woman doesn’t believe in herself, she will never believe in the success and ability of another woman.
Carol Mutoko believes that unless women embrace the idea that they are good enough, then another woman will lose out on the chance to make a difference to ‘some inept man’. With that the Forum heartily agrees.