Kenya has embraced gender equality through constitutional provisions, policies, and legislation as well as structures and mechanisms to operationalise them.
Besides, the country is also a signatory to a number of international conventions and declarations on gender equality. But these commitments have yet to deal with the nation’s wide gender gaps, including the fact that too few women get elected or appointed to high office.
Women also continue to suffer economic inequalities, and harmful socio-cultural practices such as female genital mutilation and gender-based violence.
The Business Daily spoke to Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT) managing director Mwangi Githaiga on women in leadership and how the bank is working to promote it. Here are the excerpts:
In your opinion, what is the state of women leadership in Kenya?
Over the years things have changed. Some 10 years ago things were different from what we have now. When you look at the corporate world you see many women CEOs, or directors sitting on boards, and at the legislative level we have more women in Parliament. We have three women governors, offering a signal that the country is headed in the right direction.
A lot more can, however, be done. We can’t say that the job is complete, but I think we are headed in the right direction.
Do you think women have achieved their potential in the fields of academia, politics and business?
No. We are not there yet. If you consider that women constitute more than 52 per cent of the Kenyan population, that 52 per cent doesn’t show in positions of leadership.
Women are generally at the service level but at the leadership level, much more has to be done. I would say we have a long way to go, and a lot needs to be done both by the government and people in leadership positions. This is not the time to give women small tokens of appreciation by merely pointing to the fact that women represent a third of the people who have been given opportunity. We must begin talking about women getting equal opportunity.
It is not an issue of just giving women a chance because we are being apologetic of having excluded them either in leadership, boards and top management. It is giving women their 50 per cent of all these positions. Why not? Why can’t we have 50 per cent share of women in Parliament? Why are we talking about a third?
The issue is about how we go about that — How do women go about it? How do men go about it? We have both daughters and sons at home, why don’t we see that as a forum for discussion and giving them a chance to excel?
What challenges do women who want to get into positions of leadership face?
It starts from the household level. Right from the day a girl or a boy is born, from the toys they are bought. The orientation that is given is that a girl will be bought a doll and the boy will be bought a car, already a discussion has started.
A girl will be socialised to be a mother/wife, and the (boy) to own assets like vehicles, and so the narrative starts very early at home without parents knowing.
Isn’t this then the outcome of a conscious socialisation process?
We do it many times, we tell our daughters what they can do and what they can’t do, we tell our sons what men can do and what men should not do. I think the whole thing goes wrong from that stage. Of course, when you get out there and competition starts, you find women getting suppressed.
So, there is work that needs to be done to overcome some of these cultural issues, to ensure that women don’t have to work harder than men to get to the top and are given opportunity to excel.
When a woman starts her family, for nine months she is in that state (pregnancy) while the man is moving on, excelling. Even when she delivers, there is another six months or a year of nurturing the baby — doubling up in the office and at home. As a mother the husband also expect food on the table, and she is expected to excel at the workplace!
How can employers help make life easier for women in such situations?
As an employer at this stage, you need to be very careful and realise that this is an issue. If you want women to take up leadership positions, you need to nurture them at this stage because it is at this stage that we lose them.
That’s why you will find that we have women at the workplace but they all get stuck at the bottom and the ones who make it to the middle-level management never get to the top. You go to the boards you find there are hardly any women there, you go to the CEOs, look at the banks and microfinance banks — how many of them have CEO women? Where do the women professionals go? That level of wastage is what needs to be dealt with, mainly at the corporate level and at home.
Doesn’t what you are saying make culture an issue?
It is a big issue. I think that’s where the issue starts because that’s where orientation of a young boy begins. That’s where a young girl is shown how a woman behaves and the limitations that a woman should have — all these are done at this level. By the time a girl goes to high school, college and eventually to the workplace, she has doubts on her abilities.
On the other side, the boy has been encouraged that he is strong, he can do it, go beyond his level, and he is given that feeling that he is supposed to be number one. There are many inhibitions women go through depending on where they come from. From being denied equal opportunity in schooling, and being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), and early marriages. A lot has been done by civil society, government and churches but the results are yet to be achieved.
What’s your view of affirmative action?
I have worked with women for 20 years. What women need is equal opportunity. We don’t need an affirmative action, what we need to tell women is wake up, start moving and fight on. But, we need to tell men, too, that women can do what men can do, and they need to give women an opportunity. My challenge is to senior women who are in leadership positions. I would like to see them empowering their fellow women.