27 April 2006

Kenya: What a Difference Women Leaders Make!


Nairobi — As we rally behind legislator Njoki Ndung'u for her courage in drafting and tabling the Sexual Offences Bill, the number of male MPs and individuals in the civil society supporting it is quite impressive.

This support is good. What surprises me, though, is that most men now supporting this Bill have been legislators for as long as some of us have been alive. Yet it had to take the nomination of Ms Ndung'u for the Bill to be conceived.

Sexual offences have been a major national problem for many years. The number of offenders seem to be greater these days only because of the higher levels of awareness that make many victims report the crime.

Only a few years ago, many sexually abused women and girls dared not speak out because they had no idea both whom to talk to and how they would react.

These days, many women and girls know that they can report any assault and that many people would empathise, assist and not treat them like criminals.

Balanced decision-making

What does this Bill's drafting by a woman tell us about the need for equal numbers of women and men legislators? Do women bring a different perspective into political leadership?

Yes, women do, and this is not just desirable but necessary. A great deal of research in this area has, indeed, shown that more women in leadership would help solve a lot of problems associated with perpetual poverty.

It would help balance decision-making, which, in most cases, does not have women in mind.

Decisions on, for instance, education, health - particularly reproductive - agriculture, trade, the girl-child, and gender equity require women's input.

Women's presence in senior positions is one of the most effective ways of ensuring their participation in decision-making for their own good and for children and the nation as a whole.

We need to appreciate that it will be impossible to build a modern nation on the basis of exclusion and inequality.

We have come out of the age when diversity was treated with suspicion. We have all come to appreciate diversity, which is why women must be given an opportunity to bring their views and expertise into political leadership.

Involving women in leadership would bring about the diversity to help us avoid policies that are monopolistic, too centralised and can lead to bad economies.

The first black woman US senator, Carol Moseley-Braun, noted:

"A society that taps the talents of 100 per cent of its people is a stronger society. Because it can draw from a broader talent pool, it leads to governance that is more reflective and representative."

Apart from inclusion and diversity of ideas, women also bring into the limelight issues that affect gender, specifically.

I have in mind issues like domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment (as is seen from Ms Ndungu's Bill), child-care, female genital mutilation, gender-based wage differentials, and affirmative action.

In True to Ourselves: A Celebration of Women Making a Difference,a book by the United States League of Women Voters, several women politicians share the perspectives they brought into their country's political policies that would never have found their way there.

These women say that it was only after they took their place in Congress that women's issues, such as health-care, childcare, child support, sexual harassment, domestic violence and gender-based wage differentials, were finally enunciated.

Since women are likely to have faced challenges on these issues, they felt they had the obligation and a responsibility to raise them.

Due to their efforts, the US legislated the Women's Health Act in 1990. This law recognised the need for equal treatment in health. It touched especially on the health-care providers' attitudes.

Battered women's shelters

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which increased funding for battered women's shelters and programmes for such women and their children.

Women also lead and manage differently from men and their style is needed in all organisations. Research in management and leadership has shown, for instance, that the feminine model of leadership tends to be more co-operative than competitive, empathetic, collaborative, of high performance standards, persuasive and inspiring.

The masculine model tends to be on the opposite side. Both models ought to interpenetrate.

Women are also known to bring more passion into what they do. Indeed, as a prominent columnist once put it, "the world is moved by passion and not power. That is why when passion is frustrated, rebellion becomes inevitable".

Nevertheless, it is well known that not all women, given senior positions, provide the desirable characteristics mentioned. But there seems to be a tendency to judge women much more harshly.

The challenge, therefore, is for us women to reach outside of our private lives to shape our nation by getting involved in politics, and for the voters to give women a chance.

Ms Kamau is a doctoral student at the University of London

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