A collection of women politicians calling themselves Team Embrace, mostly drawn from the ruling Jubilee Party, have been traipsing around the country campaigning for the Building Bridges Initiative that is championed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and leader of the former opposition, Raila Odinga.
From the other side of the Jubilee divide, a rival bunch calling themselves Inua Mama have also been gallivanting all over, campaigning against BBI while also rooting for Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 presidential election bid.
One can look at Team Embrace and Inua Mama as positive engagement by womenfolk in important national issues.
For too long, women have, figuratively, sat in the kitchen and allowed men to dominate national discourse.
Now they are coming out and taking their campaigns all over, becoming influential players in their own right and helping shape the national agenda. That is a charitable view.
The fact is that both Team Embrace and Inua Mama are mere vessels serving agendas designed and run by men.
The rival movements serve only to confirm that women leaders in Kenya are mere appendages of a patriarchal system.
When not being wallflowers, they are busy fighting one another on causes that are of absolutely no benefit to women leadership in Kenya, or to the women’s agenda in general.
In the bad old one-party days, then-President Daniel arap Moi had his Kanu Women’s Wing, and at one time even had the sole political party swallow Maendeleo ya Wanawake, a once-influential national women’s movement.
Team Embrace and Inua Mama are no different from the women movements of the Kanu era.
They are, respectively, merely the women wings of the Uhuru-Raila Kieleweke pressure group and the rival Ruto Tangatanga campaign team.
They do nothing more edifying than gyrating on the national stage like in the old days when women’s contribution to national political rallies was playing the role of traditional dancers, as the curtain-raisers.
Women in Kenya have a myriad causes crying out to be addressed.
There are the glaring inequalities where half the country is badly under-represented in Parliament, corporate boardrooms and management suites in both private and State-owned enterprises, economic levers and the professions.
They are treated as second-class citizens in many fields, facing discrimination out of what should be redundant cultural norms.
They are more likely to drop out of school early and suffer from diseases and ailments that come with being beasts of burden.
Constitutional requirements for gender balance are far from being attained but, instead of working on such causes and the other priorities, the women entrusted with leadership debase their positions by reducing themselves to mere platform dancers at the pleasure of male politicians.
That is betrayal of the highest order. Since the demise of Maendeleo ya Wanawake and the National Council of Women of Kenya, political leaders could have filled the vacuum in the area of lobbying women’s interests at the highest level.
Instead, they have become mere hirelings of a male-dominated political system.
They have ignored their core constituencies as they take their loud song and dance to political rallies that do not even pretend to address their real pressing concerns.
It becomes difficult to make the case for higher women representation in Parliament and other areas when those already privileged to sit in such organs betray the trust.
Ideally, Kenya should have 50-50 gender representation in Parliament to reflect the national population mix.
However, many might hesitate to vote for a deserving woman candidate if that comes with the risk that, once in the National Assembly, Senate, governor’s mansion or county assembly, she will be reduced to dancing herself lame to Kieleweke or Tangatanga beats.
Now, this is not to say that women should not be part of the national political discourse around the BBI or the jostling ahead of the 2022 elections.
Indeed, they should be in the thick of things — but as equal players taking the opportunity to ensure that their own specific interests are inserted into the agenda.
Involvement of women should not be limited to sideshows that only serve to highlight the fact that a half of the country has been relegated to nothing more important than gratification of powerful and wealthy men.
Team Embrace and Inua Mama shows achieve little other than fuel the outrageous chauvinist claims that women in Kenyan leadership are nothing more than ‘slay queens’ at the service of their male sponsors.
This is an unacceptable narrative that can be successfully countered only if those entrusted with high office live up their calling.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho