Alice and I had been in the same university years ago. We were in different departments but shared the education classes, so we did not get to know one another well at all. Just a simple greeting once in a while and nothing more. She was not one of the people I kept in touch with after campus as we barely knew one another at all.
I am quite visible on social networks and I have made lots of connections on those platforms over the years. I get many people contacting me about all manner of issues mainly through the Facebook platform.
I read the long Facebook inbox message from this woman who was having relationship problems. From the way she expressed herself, she seemed to have a badly damaged self-esteem. She did not believe in herself or her worth at all. She seemed really helpless.
The marriage was clearly completely dysfunctional and it was apparent that she was a victim of emotional abuse and neglect.
As I dug deeper into her background, I discovered that we both attended the same university and graduated the same year. Women change their names when they get married and at that particular time, I had no idea that this was someone I knew.
When we got to meet face to face, I was even more saddened. Here was a lady who was once my campus classmate years ago. She was quite unkempt and overweight. She looked older than her actual age.
Fast forward to 2017…. Alice has carved out a niche for herself and is an authority in matters to do with women and professionalism. She runs a communications company and there is no comparison between the woman she was years ago and the woman she is today.
The Road to Gender Equality
Kenya is among a number of world governments that have committed themselves in a declaration to achieve gender equality by 2030.
Achievements so far
> Some funds have been set up to finance business opportunities for women such as Women, Youth Enterprise, and the Uwezo funds
The International Women’s Day
Last month, the International Women’s Day was celebrated globally, including in Kenya. We have made some progress towards gender equality as a country but that progress is painfully slow. So much still needs to be done.
Women are stereotyped and made to feel that they are not good enough. Repeated acts of stereotyping penetrate the subconscious mind making women view themselves as incapable of any major achievements.
Oppressive Cultural Practices
Cultural practices that oppress women are still practiced. Among some communities like the Luhya, it is believed that husbands should beat their wives as a sign of love.
Violence against women and infidelity from their partners are viewed as some ills that women bring upon themselves.
The payment of dowry or bride price is still widely practiced in Kenya. When a man and his family approach a family and pay dowry for that family’s daughter, she now belongs to the family that has compensated her family by making such payment.
The situation is further aggravated by high poverty levels. Families would never do anything to jeopardize the marriage of their daughter because they would not want a situation that would result in returning the dowry that was paid to them.
Women are under pressure to make relationships work even when those relationships are damaging to them, and the unfortunate thing is that other women are some of the sources of the pressure.
If a woman foregoes buying herself some presentable clothes or having her hair done so that she can feed her children, she is accused of kujiwachilia (being careless).
The attitudes of families towards the boy child and the girl child are as far apart as night and day. A man can get away with mistakes but not so with the woman.
Single Mothers’ Woes
Societal attitudes towards single mothers are very harsh. This is the case even when these women’s circumstances are not their fault such as in cases where women are abandoned when they get pregnant or they leave violent marriages.
Single mothers are stigmatized, judged harshly and associated with immorality. Women are to blame for just about everything. If a relationship did not work out, it is her fault; she could not keep a marriage.
Women and Leadership
Leadership in Kenya is purely a men’s affair, whether family, social, religious or political. A woman with leadership capabilities finds herself persecuted left, right, front and back. She is labeled a bad woman and all manner of derogatory terms used to describe her.
A woman is not supposed to tell a man anything, even if it is her husband and she has great ideas that can benefit the family. She is supposed to be seen but not heard.
“I have seen this dynamic play out over and over. When a woman excels at her job, both male and female coworkers will remark that she may be accomplishing a lot but is “not as well-liked by her peers.” She is probably also “too aggressive,” “not a team player,” “a bit political,” “can’t be trusted,” or “difficult.” At least, those are all things that have been said about me and almost every senior woman I know.”
– Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
My experience working to empower women has brought me face to face with the way women view themselves and other women. Women are completely harsh and unforgiving to other women, believing that women are being done a favor by being in romantic relationships.
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
Some Kenya communities such as the Maasai, Kisii and Kuria still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). This practice is considered a rite of passage, a transition from childhood into adulthood.
Rural women are exposed to hazards due to the use of cheap cooking fuels such as firewood, kerosene and charcoal. The Government is not doing enough to protect women against hazards brought about by exposure to polluting fuels.
Women and Poverty
Poverty levels among women are high. Women have consistently made steps to improve themselves financially. Self-help groups (chama) have been instrumental in women empowerment but their impact is still limited.
Poor women – both in the rural areas as well as in informal urban settlements – have a huge unmet need for family planning.
Women and Careers
Women grapple with a number of challenges on their way up the career ladder. The domestic environment puts women at a huge disadvantage because society expects them to take care of the home, bring up children and become caregivers for sick family members including parents. Getting pregnant and raising babies slows down women’s careers.
Sexual harassment at places of work is rampant with some men in senior positions believing that it is their right to receive sexual favors from women who need jobs or promotions.
Kenya as a country has made some strides in improving the situation for women. A lot still needs to be done if Vision 2030 is to be realized. There is the need for reforms in the law, property ownership, education and the media.
This article is written by Susan Catherine Keter; life coach, personal development mentor, motivational speaker, freelancer and blogger.