This year has been remarkable for women all over the world in more than one way. Locally, it has been a year for women as girls outshone their male counterparts in both national examinations. Three women were elected governors and three others won senatorial seats, making history in Kenya’s politics.
But not all was glittery for the womenfolk.
For the most part of May, Brigitte Macron, 64, spurred heated conversation on spousal age difference when her husband Emmanuel Macron, 40, won the French presidential elections.
Sexual harassment against women by male film moguls, notably Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, characterised the last few months of the year.
The year had both highs and lows to the womenfolk the world over. We recap the most outstanding incidents that defined the woman’s world in 2017.
THE MILLION-WOMEN’S MARCH
A day after the inauguration of Donald Trump’s as the 45th president of United States, women around the world rallied for the women’s march. An estimated five million women participated in the march, making it one of the largest single-day protest in history.
“It was great.” says Angela Ogang’, a lawyer in Nairobi “but I feel as if the real message was lost in the sensationalism of American media. It was great that women took the anti-Trump sentiment as an opportunity to highlight issues, but it wasn’t clear whether the march was to advocate for women’s rights or to vilify an individual.”
Elizabeth Oloo, a city resident, says she was disappointed that Hillary Clinton lost. “I was hoping for a scenario where the three powerful countries in the world – Britain, Germany and America - would have been ruled by women.”
The Kenyan chapter of the march held in Karura Forest set its own local tone, with protesters appearing with placards reading “feminism is the radical notion that women are equal”, “sex workers are worker too”, “stop female genital mutilation” “I will not be gagged” and speeches calling for more representation of women in politics.
In February, Peres Jepchirchir broke the Half Marathon World record at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in the United Arab Emirates. The 23-year-old athlete knocked three seconds from the previous record set by her compatriot Florence Kiplagat in Barcelona two years ago. The women’s race was simply a thriller as eight athletes including Jepchirchir and former world half record holder Mary Keitany hit the 5km together in 15:40 minutes.
In October, Kenya’s fast-rising long distance runner Joyciline Jepkosgei broke the half marathon world record at Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Half Marathon. Jepkosgei won the IAAF Gold Label road race in 1 hour, 04 minutes and 51 seconds and in the process smashed her own record by one second. On April 1, the 23-year-old set a new world half marathon record, clocking 1:04:52 when she retained her Prague Half Marathon title at the Czech Capital City.
This was one of the most prominent hashtags of 2017 that inspired a global movement of men and women to share their stories of sexual abuse and harassment. It’s objective was to denounce sexual assault and harassment in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein. “Nothing in 2017 has been more defining for women than the Harvey Weinstien effect,” Says Diana Ngare, a 36-year-old real estate agent in Nairobi, “I don’t think much has changed in Kenya, but it’s a good start. At least now I am more aware or sensitive of what is unacceptable. I feel like now I would have more confidence to tell someone his behaviour is making me uncomfortable and I would appreciate it if he stopped. With this conversation being at the forefront, he is likely to understand what I am saying.”
‘MINJI MINJI’ VERSUS ‘NDENGU’
It was anticipated to be the mother of all battles — Martha Karua facing off Anne Waiguru for the Kirinyaga gubernatorial seat. The two aspirants came to be known by nicknames; Ndengu for Karua and Minji Minji for Waiguru. “Minji Minji is something soft and sweet but Ndengu is hard,” a Kirinyaga resident was quoted. The minji-minji euphoria gripped the electorate and made it to Kenya’s urban dictionary to symbolise a young beautiful and mainly light skinned woman. “After all I’ve been through,” Waiguru said, “it is a good feeling to be liked”. Karua reminded us that in the name Wangari, ‘Ngari’ means leopard, “…and you can be sure I have claws.”
“I was disappointed that this race was reduced to the aspirants’ femininity,” Lynette Kanja infers, “It’s almost as if there is nothing else that you can say about a woman other than the fact that she is beautiful or on the other hand, she is not feminine enough. It’s the same thing that Trump did with Hillary by calling her a nasty woman. The difference between #nastywoman and the minji-minji thing is that American women called it out and used it to challenge how people refer to women. Us, we are happy being called Minji-minji and slay queens.”
WONDER WOMAN GETS HER OWN STAGE
The American superhero film is one of the top 10 movies and the 8th highest grossing of 2017. In May, women trooped into theatres to watch the Amazonian goddess fronting her own film; as opposed to being a side kick to DC comics’ male heroes. Speaking of the character she portrays, actress Gal Gadot said “Diana has the heart of a human so she can be emotional, she’s curious, she’s compassionate, and she loves people. And then she has the powers of a goddess. She’s all for good, she fights for good. She has many strengths and powers but at the end of the day she’s a woman with a lot of emotional intelligence.”
“I heard some talk about afro-feminists not connecting with the idea of Wonder-Woman being empowering because she is white,” says Renee Kaloki, a city resident, “but frankly I was just too happy to see, for once, Hollywood romanticising the idea of a woman saving the world.”
SLAY QUEEN VS BOY CHILD
Somehow, the #metoo trend, and the culmination of both KCPE and KCSE top performers being female students, seems to have brought the boy child to people’s attention. On November 1, controversial blogger Cyprian Nyakundi launched a movement to fight “the systematic attempts by toxic feminists to diminish opportunities of the boy child”. Thus fanned the flames of a battle dabbed the ‘Slay Queen Vs Boy child’.
“Likening the Slay queen to the vulnerable woman is an abomination,” writes blogger Tony Mwebia, “We cannot purport not to educate or care for the vulnerable women and girls because they have the potential of becoming future slay queens. The boy child, especially among the poor and vulnerable populations, is always at an advantage. This does not mean we should focus only on the girl child as we risk bringing up men who are vulnerable. We should advocate for the rights of every child, whether a boy or girl.”
She scored 455 marks in last’s year KCPE, emerging as the top performing candidate. She captured the media’s and country’s attention for not only being outspoken and articulate but also for being a person living with albinism. Kenyans celebrated Goldalyn for weeks, but some now seem to be worried that the teen’s exposure is getting out of hand.
“That Goldalyn girl and her guardians should be advised,” Rosemary Wanjiru wrote on Facebook, “she comes off as a child celebrity. The world expects too much from them and they are never told it is okay to fail once in a while…” Popular blogger Robert Alai reiterated this sentiment saying “…She is already behaving and sounding like a socialite. Let her concentrate on becoming a Form One.”
RIHANNA AND HER 40 FOUNDATION SHADES OF INCLUSIVITY
The beauty industry has claimed for a long time that it was an almost impossible feat to create foundations with no ashy of grey effects for dark skin. But Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty make-up line has proved them wrong.
With over 40 shades of foundation to its name, the launch of Fenty Beauty created a frenzy, with darker shades of the foundation instantly selling out. Rihanna was praised for delivering on her promise and ushering a new era of inclusivity in the make-up industry.
“Fenty beauty was created for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures and races,” she said, “In every product, I was like, there needs to be something for a dark skinned girl, there needs to be something for a really pale girl, there needs to something in between.”
THE REVEREND AND ‘THE FEMALE BODY PART’
There’s never dull moment on The Reverend Timothy Njoya’s twitter page. The announcement that he was going to launch a book titled ‘The Divinity of the Clitoris for men to respect the female anatomy as made in God’s image’ was no different. Some accused him, especially being a man of cloth, of being crass and disrespectful to women, urging him to find another name in place of ‘clitoris’. Others came to his defence, supporting his intent to speak out against female genital mutilation. “What is disrespectful of the word clitoris?,” one Miss Wanjiru Njenga asked, “What should he call it? ‘thing’, ‘female body part’?” The debate continued, with the Reverend and his supporters maintaining there was nothing shameful about the female anatomy.
YOUNG WOMEN AND COURTS
In 2015, pictures of a Kenyan teenage girl being strip-searched by police emerged online. The teenager was in a group of students arrested on accusations of abusing drugs after the police seized a bus ferrying them home from school. The girl, whose name was withheld, was sentenced to 18 months probation. Following the strip-search incident, a human rights organisation filed a suit, seeking a Sh7 million compensation for violation of privacy. Early this month, the High Court awarded her Sh4 million with the judge concluding that “the search violated the provisions for the right to dignity and not to be subjected to degrading treatment…and statutory provision governing police conduct while searching women.”
Meanwhile, earlier last month, celebrities Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Le Bron James and Snoop Dogg took to social media to call for the release of Cyntoia Brown, a 29-year-old woman who at the age of 16 was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man who had picked her up for sex. Adding to the calls for her release is the argument that at 16, Brown was not only a juvenile, but also a sex-traffic victim who acted in self-defence. “It is heartbreaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back, she is jailed for life” read Kim Kardashian’s post, “I’ve called my attorneys to see what can be done to fix this.”
MELANIN: HIT OR MISS?
Following the release of Sauti Sol’s video for the song Melanin, Kenya Film and Classification Board chief executive Ezekel Mutua declared it ‘gross and not fit to be watched by children’. He wondered why ‘such a respectable music group would resort to such a video, which objectified women under the guise of beauty.’
Alice Cheptoo, a 34-year-old health officer agreed with Mutua. “When I heard Sauti Sol had released a song titled Melanin, I was excited because I thought they would be celebrating black and dark skin,” she states, “but when I saw the video, it portrayed black women as sexual objects. I expected something better from them; that they would understand the nuances of the difference between celebrating and objectifying a woman.”