Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are We Women For Women?

I have often thought that the purpose of a myriad of local meetings and international conferences that women have held in the past has been to seek equal opportunity, and liberation from oppression at the hands of a patriarchal society. In my view, the recent ‘affirmative action’ proposed by Martha Karua rubbishes the purpose of all these meetings, making it seem like the education and empowerment of women is never really part of the agenda and if it is, a trickle-down effect has never been felt by the majority, the worker and peasant woman. As a ‘faceless’ woman who has never been invited to these meetings, I ask, what exactly do they discuss?

I’m glad that men, who are the majority members of the Kenyan parliament, shot down this action. Once again, Kenyan men lived up to women’s expectations, that despite seeing many ‘third world countries’ with a large number of women in their parliament, our men are still afraid of what a high percentage of women in the Kenyan parliament would denote. It is important to note here, that many a Kenyan man’s view of a woman, however educated, is with a ‘mwiko’ in one hand and a baby clutched tightly in the other. That view is not only held by many men in the rural area, but also a high percentage of ego-inflated male members of the Kenyan Parliament.

I’m glad that the action was shot down for several reasons. The most important reason being that the instigators of the action are of a totally different class from the women they purport to seek liberation for. The power seekers, not having lived the lifestyle of the women majority, spoken to them outside conferences where these women are token ‘representatives’ of the poor and are tutored on what to say, or even visited and spoken to them in their dwellings in the rural areas and slums, are in no position to speak about the struggles of these women. History has shown that women who have gone this far, once elected and in Parliament, are soon taken over by incessant power struggles, resulting in the main agenda being put on the back burner as they fight to stay politically afloat through the usual empty rhetoric, instead of action leading to change.

The bourgeoisie lady, who is the wife or relative of the rich businessman or political bigwig, seeks power for all the reasons their male counterpart seeks it; power for money and power’s sake. With this in mind, and the man’s lowly view of women, the recent reaction from the male MPs was not unexpected. It just goes to show that the so-called cake is too small, even for the upper bourgeoisie class. No guessing who will have to suffer to make the ingredients that increase the size of this cake! The bourgeoisie women should be satisfied handling the almost equally lucrative NGOs and the MP owned ‘small’ businesses funded by government contracts. As the fight between the men and women of the upper bourgeoisie class continues, the peasant and worker woman, whose rights the bourgeoisie women claim to fight for, remain tightly in the clutches of poverty and oppression.

So what is a woman to do, should we meekly ask? An enlightened woman should educate the disillusioned woman. This includes our own very close friends and confidants who still believe that men will bring about change for women. I will reiterate here, there has never been any change without the oppressed feeling pushed to the limit and rising! Nobody will ever know, however articulate you may be, how painfully your high heels pinch. Women have to rise up to bring about their own change. How? By organizing women in their own settings and groupings. Yes, let us, who are aware, reach out to the woman in the city and rural areas, in their Women’s Guild meetings, their merry go round, their prayer meetings. To what end? To educate them on class and empower them to speak out for their own class. To make our fellow women aware that however safe we may feel in the blanket of tribe, Kenya is a class nation and no matter how sincere sounding our current ‘women leaders’ are, they will ultimately empower and enrich their own class, and each election will leave us more frustrated.

Lastly, let us who are aware stand by our less fortunate sisters by elucidating the fact that only women in the worker and peasant class understand best the struggles of their class, and therefore only they can make lasting change for their class. Now, from where I stand, that is what by the people, with the people and for the people means. Until the day that women stand up for, trust and vote in women, all call for affirmative action will end up in the bin.

PoP 19 Aug 07


Acolyte said...

Giving women seats just because they are women would only prove what many men believe, that women need a helping hand to get anything done. women are the largest voting block in Kenya and should use that clout to get their fellow women into parliament where they can do something instead of waiting for hand outs for men.

Lioness said...

A resounding Amen! To change out status, we need to drive the change!

Mzalendo said...

Spot on! Affirmative action in favour of women in national or public institutions is necessary to redress the gender imbalances due to deeply embedded cultural prejudices. However we must not allow class patriarchs to handpick unelected and unrepresentative upper class women to buttress their plutocratic rule at the expense of the exploited & downtrodden working class women majority. Nor should it be a substitute for a more permanent solution as part of a National Democratic Cultural Revolution. For, as Rasna Warah reminded us (on pg 10 of the Daily Nation of 20.08.2007): "Affirmative action for the sake of it can do more harm than good when the woman or the ethnic minority appointed has no power, ability or desire to effect real change."

Lioness said...

Welcome back, Mzalendo. Thank you for the comment.