Until not very long ago, I was a loud champion for women empowerment. Every chance I got, I tried to make one more woman or one more girl empowered. And of course each time, I made them aware of this big step that they were now a little more empowered.
I was wrong. My efforts were counterproductive. I know that now. I know that by preaching these messages of empowerment by telling women that we were fighting for their empowerment, I was actually reinforcing that belief that women are weak.
There are these women who sell skin bleaching concoctions in stalls on River Road in Nairobi. Every time a dark skinned woman passes by, one who they feel doesn’t pass the brown paper bag test, they hound her. I actually don’t have a big problem with how they follow you or stand in your way thinking that this will make you change your mind and slip into one of the stalls.
But I have a problem with the things they say, “Madam, kuja tukufanye ukuwe msupuu.” (Madam, come let us make you beautiful) Selling me a beauty product by first telling me that I am not beautiful is very off putting. I don’t know how they manage to make any sales.
Trying to sell women empowerment to women is behaving like these women. The truth is that the Kenyan woman is not weak. I do not think that she has ever been. They say that literature is a true reflection of society. Kenyan literature from two or three generations ago was written around strong female characters.
A good example is the character Akoko in the popular book The River and the Source by Margaret Ogola, who did not shy off from fighting for what she believed were her rights. Women played a pivotal role in the fight for Kenya’s independence so much so that the British colonialists built prison camps just for women. The woman from that generation was not weak.
The Kenyan woman doesn’t need to be empowered, she already is. The problem is that our systems are built in such a way that the woman is not given a chance to channel this energy into improving themselves.
Let’s stop talking about female empowerment as if it is a commodity that can be given out. We should instead be teaching the underprivileged women around us to tap into their energy which is strong, creative and journey-oriented.
We should be pushing for a change in the systems to allow women to thrive. We have done well. Quite a number of laws that tweak the system to give women level platforms have been passed in the recent past. Now let’s get leaders who will implement them.
And mothers and fathers, let’s stop buying into this Disney charade of a woman being a weak and cuddly being that needs saving. Actual Kenyan women in our history did a lot of saving.