25 November 2018

Kenya: Here's How Vera Sidika Could Kill the Gender Bill

Socialite Vera Sidika has got to be among the most influential celebrity lifestyle personalities on social media.

Ms Sidika's physical endowments and excellence at getting attention have earned her quite a huge and engaged fan base.

Rumours of her relative success on the social scene have not only made her the face of the slay queen culture in Kenya but also thrust it into mainstream showbiz.

Even if you aren't a fan, you'll still hear about Ms Sidika's party life from a tag by a Facebook friend or the guy at the next desk in the office.

WHATSAPP GOSSIP

This past week, she got social media heating up with WhatsApp gossip about the bedroom skills of her younger boyfriend, the musician Otile Brown.

I gather that Otile Brown, a celebrity in his own right, took the public dissing by his popular girlfriend in his stride.

For a person in showbiz, Otile Brown didn't necessarily come much worse off from the targeted belittling.

In the slay queen culture, any attention must be good attention.

He could even say, and rightly so, that his private things are none of our business.

But we certainly need to be concerned about how stereotypes and perceptions about the slay queen culture is feeding misogyny in society and shaping public opinion around important policy issues touching on women in the country.

NUMBER OF WOMEN

A case in point is the latest public debate on the Bill that seeks to enforce the constitutional two-thirds gender rule and increase the number of women in Parliament.

The Bill, currently before the National Assembly, has in the past received considerable public backing despite the MPs voting to shoot it down.

But this time round the public reception is anything between lukewarm and hostile.

Part of the reason for its unpopularity could be wrong timing, coming against the backdrop of a push by a section of politicians for a referendum to reduce the number of elected and nominated members of the National Assembly, the Senate and the county assemblies.

PUBLIC FINANCE

President Uhuru Kenyatta two months ago set the tone for opposition to such legislation when he linked his administration's public finance challenges to many offices created by the 2010 Constitution while justifying the introduction of a raft of taxes.

Yet the biggest threat to the Bill remains MPs who have vowed to vote against it, arguing that it gives party leaders power to nominate their friends, relatives and cronies to Parliament at the expense of deserving women.

A widely circulated video on social media has a nominated MP, ironically himself a beneficiary of affirmative action, launching into a misogynistic rant about 'slay queens' and 'masseurs'.

He comes off as uncouth, of course.

But there is a sense that many more male MPs are not fans of Vera Sidika and Otile Brown and think like their nominated colleague, which bodes ill for the Bill.

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