The buzz around the International Women’s Day was much less the drama that preceded and followed the purported “Men’s Conference”. However, the day was none the less hard to avoid seeing the great role that women play in society. Gone are the days when women folk were known for their prowess in chores within the family home and in the case of the African context, their capacity to churn our children – preferably boys to carry on the family name.
The heritage of what women can do has over the years seen a number of them step into spaces traditionally meant for men. Whether it be in Europe, Asia, America and even here in the motherland Africa, women continue to make strides in this century that only a few decades ago were a mere imagination in a quiet mind.
More and more women have found empowerment in getting decent opportunities for employment and with it a wider opportunity to make independent choices on investment, health, family, and general wellbeing. Gone are the days when a majority of women if not all were dependent on their husbands or family members for day to day survival. While there still exists a gap in terms of gender parity in the workplace, there has been conversation on the place of women not just in the office but also in board rooms where decisions are made.
Women On Boards Network chairperson Catherine Musakali says companies would benefit by appointing more women to their boards as research shows that gender diversity is good for business. Inadequate representation of women on boards, she adds is the reason behind policies that entrench gender biases and hostile work environments.
A 2015 study by the Institute of Directors Kenya found that women account for 30 per cent of board memberships in Kenya, mainly boosted by constitutional requirements. A few names that come to mind include Kenya’s own the late Professor Wangari Maathai who was the first woman in Kenya to win the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to better the environment through activism, participation and civic education among others.
Then there is the woman who changed the environment in Kenya for the best in terms of environmental degradation and putting an end to unsightly plastic bags stuck on highways and filling our landfills. Professor Judy Wakhungu was part of the team that pulled out every peg to ensure that come what may, the law to curb the use of plastic bags in Kenya would be implemented – a fete that came full circle in 2017.
After years of mitigation from 2005, 28th August 2017 was a dream come true for the team pushing for the implementation of the ban for use of plastic bags. That ban can seldom be spoken of without the name of Professor Wakhungu being mentioned and of course celebrated. The place of politics in the country that is slightly over 50 years is not to be ignored!
While there is a lot of clamor for women’s representation in parliament via the one-third gender rule bill, there is still a remnant of the pioneer women who ventured into that space by daring to be bold. Grace Aketch Onyango really is the epitome of boldness and stoically carries the title of Iron Lady despite being a retiree from the political arena.
Grace now 91-years-old took on an all-male representation in Parliament in the 70s and broke the African cultural taboos that confined women to the kitchen by elbowing her way to national politics. At the time and as it is now in some parts of Kenya, it was unthinkable for women to stand before men, let alone lead them. But for Grace she is a woman of many firsts:
- She was the first Kenyan woman mayor following her election in Kisumu in 1965
- In 1969 she was the first woman to be elected Member of Parliament for Kisumu Town
- She was also the first woman Secretary-General of Luo Union (East Africa)
- As well as the first woman councilor of Kaloleni ward in Kisumu
But this collection cannot be closed without thinking of the young women making a difference in society. Africa’s first female Dreamliner captain, Irene Koki Mutungi, Chelagat Mutai made history by becoming the youngest Member of Parliament to date at the age of 24 beating other twelve contestants.
Elizabeth Marami who at 25, was the first woman marine pilot after five years of training at the prestigious marine training college in Alexandria Egypt, among others. There are many more emerging and making a difference in sports, business, academics, health, innovation, environment, economics and much more.
We can not talk about all these without considering land economics and in fact the very access to the land in terms of ownership.The place of empowerment that advises the theme for the 2019 International Women’s Day – Think Equal | Build Smart | Innovate – then points to the issue of land and ownership of the same by women. An excerpt from the The unfinished revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights on JSTOR” courtesy of the Bristol University Press. Published in 2012 shows that the journey to ownership of property especially for women in marital relationships continues to be an uphill task.
It is not unusual to hear of news coverage of widows and their children thrown out by relatives once their husbands dies and with the conviction that the women have had no contribution whatsoever in the sourcing of the property. Kenyan women’s rights to own and inherit property are challenged, threatened and suppressed by customs, laws, and individuals, such as government officials.
Many leaders, both of the nation and individual households, believe women to be incompetent to manage land. This is juxtaposed by the fact that, in Africa, women constitute 70-90 percent of the agricultural labor force, meaning that they manage most of the lands already, but are made unable to own any.
Perhaps it is this landscape that has continued to encourage women to be strategic in their investments and move away from being dependent on their spouses for the future. While the ideal would be for the women to invest in the full knowledge of their husbands, many have chosen to make independent investments regardless of their marital status.
The challenges of in-laws, ancestral land issues, mistrust in marriages, and the issue of diminished enthusiasm by some spouses to work for the good of the family continue to see more women investing in real estate. The trend is set to rise in the future if the current ratio of 65% women investors versus 35% investors being men in the case of Optiven Limited is to be maintained.
Notwithstanding, we salute women for their resilience, forward looking and future planning agenda through investments, development and even better, building better societies through their decision. On this International Women’s Day, from all of us at Optiven Limited, we celebrate you knowing that together, we are on a journey of transformation for the individual, families, societies and the world. Happy International Women’s Day 2019.
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