Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma has lamented the reluctance by qualified women to take up diplomatic assignments for “family reasons”.
The admission last week at a side event during the African Union Summit in Mauritania could indicate her ministry’s challenge to bring on board as many women as possible in the foreign service.
Dr Juma told the audience her office has often struggled to convince women to take up foreign service jobs because of the inherent belief in society that they have to take care of homes and raise children.
Though she didn’t mention specific incidents and argued there is rising improvement as more women choose careers and delay family commitments, she called for concerted efforts for women to take up jobs traditionally seen as meant for men.
“In our own foreign service, often times female colleagues are compelled to decline foreign service external postings due to family obligations.
“On the other hand, when their spouses are posted out of the country, they stall their career progression to accompany their spouses,” she told an audience in a speech distributed by the Foreign ministry.
Dr Juma spoke at the event dubbed “Women in Power”, in Nouakchott in Mauritania, part of the African Union’s policy to encourage gender equality as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. And among the audience was Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame whose government is often cited as one of Africa’s most progressive in gender equality.
Though Kenya’s law requires that no gender should take up more than two-thirds of appointive and elective posts, Kenya is yet to achieve this.
In the Foreign ministry, there have been two women Cabinet Secretaries since 2013. Of the 56 foreign missions, women head embassies in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Iran, Belgium, France, South Africa and Malaysia (the latter not yet confirmed). At least six others are acting heads of missions.
Within the ministry, the Protocol office, Africa Division, the Great Lakes Region office and the Chef de Cabinet posts are headed by women.
“A choice between having a family and career is not a choice young women should have to make. More likely than not, family wins. This leads to stalled career progression, which then leads to unfulfilment (sic) and diminished confidence,” she argued.
“Very few women compete for positions at the highest levels and this leads to a draining on selection that may not be driven by competence.”
The AU Summit held at the weekend was convened in July for Heads of State and government to discuss the continental body’s budgetary approvals, fix policy on combating corruption as well as peace and security.
Dr Juma who represented President Uhuru Kenyatta, called on leaders to support gender equality, saying it could help reduce Africa’s incessant conflicts.
“Evidence has shown that supporting a stronger role for women contributes to economic growth, improves child survival and overall family health.
“Where women are involved in peace processes, there is a greater likelihood of successful conflict resolution and sustained peace and stability.
This is mainly because, women peace-builders’ perspectives, priorities and focus address wholesome societies beyond acquisition and retention of power, she said.
Under Agenda 2063 where the AU seeks to be prosperous and peaceful in 50 years, leaders agreed to ‘silence guns’ by 2020, a tall order considering South Sudan, Somalia, Central Africa Republic are still violent areas.