The cancer of discrimination against women cannot be treated with Panadol

Tuesday December 04 2018

"This is a men’s world," said a prominent female judge when she narrated to the audience how, in her campus days, a senior teacher approached her asking for sexual favours. She told him off and stood her ground. She knew she was risking a lot, and would probably fail the subject.

For years, the disgrace of discrimination against women has been too obvious in our society. From birth till death, women are often judged by men’s standards of productivity, power, financial success and independence. Less drums sound when they are born, and the boy still carries the day.

When mothers join the corporate race, their professional progression seems to be thwarted every time they bring a bundle of joy into the world. It is a tough world and a serious dilemma. It looks like we have not understood the dynamics of family life and success.

We tend to judge women’s success by male standards; the more they look like men, the more successful they are. If they decide to become stay-home moms, the world – not the baby – calls them a failure, a waste.


I thank God every day for the parents I had. I grew up in a rather large home where there was no discrimination; we were equal though not uniform. My parents were true visionaries, ahead of their time. Everyone at home, boy or girl, washed dishes, cleaned floors, helped in the kitchen, climbed trees and did some laundry.


My father was an important military man, a prestigious and respectable army general, a revered and well-regarded boss. My mother was a successful professional, a woman of outstanding character and kindness. She became one of the first women doctors in economics and a director of a prestigious banking institution.

Both father and mother were exceedingly successful in their professions. He had the power and she had the money, and they got along amazingly well. But they had one clear idea – their ten children were their greatest enterprise and priority. I thank God every day for their generosity. Had they stopped, for example at seven, I would not be in the world, for I am the last-born.

Such a large family was fun. There was always something to do, someone to laugh, play, fight and cry with… There was always fun. No matter how busy my parents were, the weekend was non-negotiable. Every weekend we would travel upcountry to visit relatives, to see grandmother, that beautiful woman of African descent who provided her grandchildren with amazing wisdom and humour.

Our parents complemented each other and blended their temperaments in amusing ways. She was always fast and early; he was slower and measured. She was impulsive while he was reflective. She was fun and tender; he was stern and disciplined. But both had an ''uncommon'' common sense and a sense of humour difficult to match.

She was, and still is, an amazing mother. He was an equally marvellous father, until his death on September 11, 2018. When he passed away, all my brothers and sisters agreed on two beautiful facts. One, he left nothing material behind for he had been generous beyond measure in life. Two, we did not care much about his professional achievements. They were prominent and he got a 21-gun salute, but they really mattered little to us.

What mattered most was their generosity, their love and their unfailing dedication to their family. They had not built a material empire, but a spiritual and human one.

Many friends ask me how my mother could be a successful economist and prominent corporate woman with so many children. How did they manage to bring us up? The truth is that she is a supermom. I know I spent many days at the bank and all the staff were my friends…perhaps they had to be. But for me, she was not an economist, banker or boss…she was just ''mom''.

Discrimination begins and grows in the family. If we want to end discrimination, we may need to rethink our family policies. Are they family-friendly? What is happening to today’s family? It may sound utopic, but this is perhaps the only way to deal with discrimination against women in a sustainable manner.

We seem to have developed a special gift for disconnecting thinking from doing. We think without doing and do without thinking; and when this happens in lawmaking, the impact is deep and often long-lasting.


A bill was tabled and read in Parliament to amend the Constitution and give full effect to article 81(b). It says ''the electoral system shall comply with the following principles– (b) not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.''

Parliament is defaulting this provision as only 21.77 percent of its membership is made up of women. The bill proposes to amend articles 90, 97 and 98 to increase the number of nominated women through party lists till the proportion goes a little beyond 33 percent.

The solution seems sensible. But are we resolving the issue of discrimination against women in the professional world? Isn’t this just a way to quieten our conscience by increasing undemocratic representation in an already saturated Parliament?

According to a study authored by the Institute of Economic Affairs, the total cost of such amendment will be Sh282,240,000 per year, which is roughly Sh6.41 per citizen.

The matter is complex. Democracy does not seem to be compatible with the affirmative quota agenda. Democracy is about choice and we would be limiting that choice, for a good reason, but limiting it anyway.

How can we eradicate discrimination at the root? As I look back at my childhood, it looks like the key lies in the family. Perhaps the answer is more complex than we think. Certainly, it is not just a matter of percentages, which may be like trying to cure cancer with a Panadol.

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi