Election of Ethiopia’s first female President, a precedent for Kajiado

Elevation of a woman to Eithopia’s presidency raises the bar for women in the region

Caroline Chege

In 2018, Ethiopia’s parliament appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as the country’s first female elected president. She is currently the only female president out of 54 African heads of state.

Ethiopia’s move is hailed as a monumental new standard for women in the region, and has set a high bar and precedent for Kenya as a patriarchal country and for Kajiado County.

Indeed, the appointment of a female head of state embraces women as competent decision makers in public office.

There is a positive momentum to recognize women and men as equal in politics.

This is vital in achieving the Kenya and Kajiado we want. The drive towards equal representation and equal participation by women must go in tandem with the pursuit for significant positions of leadership.

Women in politics in Kenya are bold, competent, and resilient; however, elective political and public administration at national and county levels are exceedingly a male-dominated domain.

Kajiado’s political agenda is culturally dominated, with traditional biases hindering the effective progress of social and economic development.

Culture over competency is a limitation for the youth and women in accessing opportunities. As a consequence, this negatively impacts their livelihoods and development.

Ensuring productive county governance and equality is the duty of opinion leaders, gate keepers, elected leaders, religious institutions, and civic society.

All these should value, invest in, and accept a development agenda that prioritizes vision and competence over traditional biases. The latter, in fact, only hinder the people’s ability to progress and infringe on their right to access basic development infrastructure.

The higher the level of male dominance and traditional prejudices, the lower the ability of capable women to participate in political and development leadership.

In a progressive society, the more women’s participation is valued as equal to men’s, the more united and richer in knowledge the society is.

Our greatest resource in Kajiado County is our natural resources. But who are the main stewards and managers of the family, water, energy, farming, livestock, and community sanitation? The women ensure that the family, livestock, and farms have access to water on a daily basis. In environmental governance — where the decision-making processes include policies, plans, programmes, and funding —the voices of these grassroots women must be incorporated as key stakeholders.

The county environment ministry has the mandate to strengthen the capacity of these rural and urban women who are active stewards of natural resources in food production and energy, and provide them with the knowledge and capacity to access substantial markets, training, skills and technologies. The ministry needs to address disparities at the community level through strengthening the capacity and voices of women, who are active community members at the 25 ward level.

Culture views the raising of children and caring for the family as the primary role of women, and some women who go against the grain face harsh prejudices and ostracization. Women are inherently competent multi-taskers; a woman can effectively care for her family and perform productively in a leadership role with a supportive family and community around them.

More than 50 per cent of our population in Kajiado is made of women. It is not possible to productively progress socially and economically unless we actively engage and value the views, interests, and solutions of women, incorporating the voices of women who have vast experience and knowledge at the grassroots and political decision making tables and processes.

This should not be through a token one woman’s voice, but rather ensuring an equal share of voices towards an inclusive and just society for the social and economic sustainable growth of the county. The women of Kajiado are a diverse and integral part of the social, economic, and political growth of the county — women are key players in the formal and informal sectors, despite not getting paid for their roles.

In politics, the evidence indicates that when more women are involved in political processes, they improve that process as more women become interested in working across party lines. They champion authentic issues of gender equality, health, clean water, education, and the environment. They stand for politics that genuinely impacts their communities for the benefit of current and future generations, they become role models and mentors to many in society.

For instance, the late Prof Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize after decades of environmental and political activism to conserve forests in Kenya and beyond. She assisted women and girls in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and in schools and church compounds, believing the protection of the environment was essential to preventing conflict; she was a peace and environment ambassador nationally and globally. There are Wangari Maathai’s at our county grassroots levels, and it takes visionary leadership to raise their potential.

Hats off to the tenacious and capable women who are gradually rising in numbers; these women champions in Kajiado county are breaking through the cultural barriers and glass ceiling; these women have rightly fought and attained leadership positions. Their success is attributed to factors such as access to a quality education, a supportive family, valuable teachers, information, constitutional equality rights, and a progressive community.

Caroline Chege is Board Director of Ngong Municipality and was a candidate for the Kajiado senatorial seat in the 2017 general election

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