Earlier this week, I had the privilege of joining many prominent women and the American Ambassador Michael Ranneberger at his residence to celebrate International Women’s day.
Such celebrations have been in existence around the world from the beginning of the last century.
However, in 1975 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to observe a specific day for women’s rights and international peace, which is how the 8th of March came to be designated International Women’s Day.
This year the UN promoted a global theme stating: ‘Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all’.
I want to echo the importance of women not only in our personal lives, but also in the development of our country; and in particular emphasise that giving them larger opportunities translates into greater benefit for the community.
If you look around you, in the cities and the countryside, it is almost always the women who hold the family unit together. I am told that in some towns, men spend their days playing board games and drinking whatever cheap brew they can get their hands on.
In turn, this behaviour causes them to neglect their families to the point of abdicating their bedroom responsibilities! In fact, a while back some of these local women held a demonstration to air their dissatisfaction with such ‘weighty’ matters.
Having said that, the struggle to promote women’s rights has come a long way from the time the Beijing Conference was viewed as a form of rebellion – at least here in Kenya.
It is no longer a form of feminism, rather an underlying need to level the playing field. Now we understand that the struggle for equality is more about promoting the dignity of every human being regardless of their gender.
We know that empowering women enables us to tap into a potential talent base comprising a large percentage of the population. As a result, they have made great strides and are visible in every sector of the economy from agriculture, to the service industry, and the Judiciary etc.
We have global icons in the likes of Professor Wangari Maathai… to the hard working woman on the street who sacrifices a great deal to ensure that her children access education; to noble presidential aspirants. None is greater than the other, and each must play their role to the best of their ability.
However, women must not count their chicks before they hatch.
I was puzzled to read in a recent poll that our women would not vote in one of their own as President. I was also bothered to hear from the Ministry of Education that girls in High School did not perform as well as their male counterparts.
More importantly, records show that the number of women in leadership positions in Kenya still lags behind those of our less developed neighbours. Even though our women are vocal, brilliant and just as capable of leadership, their struggle to increase representation in Parliament does not translate into meaningful figures.
Secondly, according to a report released by the World Economic Forum, “The corporate world is not doing enough to achieve gender equality…the idea that most corporations have become gender-balanced or women – friendly is still a myth” (The Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010).
My understanding is that gender parity is still a huge problem, with the majority of women with similar qualifications still holding less powerful positions than their male counterparts. Many of them admittedly struggle conducting business with a not-too-welcoming boys’ club and yet needing to balance the needs of their families.
So what is it that we as a country can do differently to support our women and close this gender gap?
To begin with, our Gender Ministry needs to host such celebrations in the future. It needs to highlight more significantly, powerful role models that young girls can aspire to be like. They need to host forums where women can debate on their challenges and come up with practical solutions on how to turn things around. They need to do more in addressing the right people, in the right venues.
It is also clear that we in the Private Sector need to provide equal opportunities for female candidates.
Personally, I tend to employ just as many women as men because I have seen their ability to use their comparative advantages for the long-term benefit of business enterprises. I may be biased in this area, but I know for sure that testosterone requires an equal but opposite force to achieve perfect balance in the office.
My message to women is this: “Approach the world with confidence and it will give you a greater chance. Do not try to compete against men, rather against your individual selves for your self-improvement.
Finally, but most importantly, we are tired of hearing the maxim that women are their own worst enemy. Give every woman a chance to prove herself.
Perhaps the UN global theme I mentioned earlier should apply to yourselves first; that you need to equalise the opportunity field for each other. I will continue to support you where I can.