On Tuesday, 8th March 2022, Kenya joined the world in observing the International Women’s Day. This year’s theme #BreakTheBias is one whose objective is to rid the world of bias, harmful stereotypes, discrimination against women and create an environment that encourages diversity, equity, equality and inclusion.
While women have over time made significant strides in education, employment, arts, sports and leadership, they still cannot boast of the same level of access and benefits like their male counterparts. Issues such as unequal pay still prevail. To top this, women still encounter numerous challenges both systemic and societal in their professional journey. The pursuit for leadership is even worse if one considers the stereotypes women are subjected to by society and fuelled by the skewed and biased coverage by media.
Enough studies done locally and globally, including those conducted by Mzalendo Trust, have shown that women have to jump more hurdles to attain leadership yet solving this remains a mirage. How then are state and non-state organizations, media, religious bodies and communities working to break the bias and ensure that women have a fair chance at leading the country?
Are matters of integrity being looked at with a gender lens? Given the high cost of politics and its net effect of locking out special interest groups from the political space, has there been an effort to champion for integrity to achieve inclusion? We need to start addressing these issues from this perspective considering that the result of unregulated campaign spending is high levels of corruption and recycling of the same crop of leaders with questionable character.
Has the perspective of the Kenyan society evolved such that women can have the courage to come out and vie for leadership positions without having to worry about their lives being torpedoed? For long women have been subjected to harassment in public and private spaces, the physical and online world with little consequence on the perpetrators’ part. However, the time has come to put an end to women’s martyrdom in the political space and this discussion is particularly relevant as the election approaches.
Will women be guaranteed of fair party primaries? Will the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP), Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT) and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) work together to ensure that there is fairness in how party conduct themselves throughout this electioneering period? The answers to these questions will be critical in ensuring that female aspirants receive equal and fair treatment as their male and seasoned male counterparts.
Has the media sensitized their journalists enough to ensure there’s balanced coverage and portrayal of women when they cover stories this season? Have media houses built the capacity of journalist to identify misinformation and disinformation that is likely to be weaponized? The incident where the media quickly picked up a doctored video of the Senate’s proceedings that implied that Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata was at a night club during the sittings was really worrying. The era of fake deeps is here and the damage that targeted online attacks have on women is most times irreversible.
The popular saying, “A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots,” sums up the grim reality of women in the political space. Which then calls for vigilance and adherence to media ethics amongst journalists to ensure that the making of female martyrs in politics comes to an end.
We, citizens, also owe it to women to fact-check information before crucifying them and identify our internalized biases to achieve a cultural mind shift.
The journey of equity, equality and inclusion of women may be long but it’s not impossible. The two-thirds gender rule for instance is one that can be easily attained this election if we, the electorate, stop being myopic and start judging female candidates on merit. Wanjiku has a responsibility to move from surface level scrutiny and critically analysing the message, agenda and track-record of the female candidates they encounter.
If we stop centering money, incentives and personal favours and start judging candidates on merit, we may have a fair chance of changing the face of leadership and getting closer to achieving and localizing the sustainable development goals for Kenya.
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