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Women must mentor other women. It’s never been more urgent

Tuesday March 21 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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After 108 years of celebrating ‘our’ day, women need to change the way they look at the world, so that the world can change the way it looks at us. Otherwise we will begin to sound like a broken record.

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, with the theme ‘Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work’. A session on the status of women all over the world was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, the same city where the first recorded celebration of women’s day took place in 1909.

According to the UN, only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the workforce against a backdrop of 76 per cent of working age men. These statistics do not lie; it is true that women are not well represented in formal employment.

Even in instances where they are represented, their cadre is still scanty in top management, with concentration in middle management and support staff.

LEAVING THEIR CHILDREN

It is also true that opportunities for girls all over the world remain marred by historical and cultural imbalances, inequities and trajectories that are crafted to favour boys and men in patriarchal societies that, honestly, are not about to change a thing.

It sounds highly intelligent on paper, for example, for high-powered delegations of women to sit in New York and discuss the entry of more women into the workplace.

Yet doing so in a global environment, where innovation and technology are seen to be the future, somewhat contradicts the purpose of such a gathering.

It is not enough to sit in New York and say that more girls must be encouraged to take on the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) from an early age. It will take more. 

First, women must lead in the effort to stop this nonsense of labelling the work they do as primary caregivers to children "unrewarding".

It is a fact that women enter and stay in the workplace while leaving their children with other women, rarely men, more so their partners or the fathers of these children.

I am not sure how replacing one woman with another furthers our goals, but I am in no way contradicting the right of mothers to choose to be in the workplace.

CREATING A PIVOT

The nurturing work of women may be the most valuable of all above technology, politics and careers in creating a well-rounded society in which all other sectors can thrive.

Children who lack a firm foundation, the kind that only a parent can provide, grow into ill-adjusted members of society. As they say, it is easier to raise children than to mend broken adults.

Second, each woman has a role to play in the future choices that girls make in their lives, and I cannot over-emphasise choices. The idea that none of the 50 per cent of women who are outside the workplace is out by choice is retrogressive.

So what are the choices that we have here in Kenya for creating a pivot on which to further the agenda of women’s empowerment? There is so much we can do, yet little is being done.

All women at the workplace in middle to upper management should have another woman they mentor. Most mentors are men mentoring men, and for obvious reasons, given gender policies in the workplace and histories of sexual abuse and harassment against women.

So women should take on younger or junior women and mentor them, otherwise men will continue to mentor other men and rise in the workplace as we doll up, head to New York and talk shop.

NAKED BODIES

How many Kenyan women take the trouble to return to their primary or secondary schools and encourage the girls there, by giving them lessons from the school of life on what to do and what not to do? Very few, if any!

So we expect that a girl from my village in Ikinu will make, and fight for, a different choice because we have an International Women’s Day? No.

There have been some tasteless pictures of under-dressed women who are allegedly seeking the post of Women's Representative. How many half naked, pot-bellied men have we seen posters of trying to get into any office? What is the connection between our naked bodies and elective positions?

Have women parliamentarians or representatives seen these posters and read these women the riot act, or even filed a formal compliant to whomever such a compliant can be filed, including the political parties these women belong to?

I celebrate all women, even beyond Women’s Day, but the change that we seek starts with us and the little things we contribute to our own cause on a daily basis.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa