Kenya: Elder Rejects Proposal to Have Women Join Njuri Ncheke

The Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders has been challenged to spearhead a campaign to raise more women leaders in Meru to achieve gender parity.

Dr Sarah Kilemi, a development economist and founder of The Village Trust, said the patriarchal traditional systems in have limited the number of women ascending to leadership, especially elective positions.

She expressed concern that only two women were elected to the Meru County Assembly while no woman has ever won a parliamentary seat in the region since the 1970s.

While welcoming the nomination of Lady Justice Martha Koome as the Chief Justice, Dr Kilemi sought a relook into the Ameru traditional leadership structures.

"The best example of these barriers is the Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders, which is a preserve of men. Unless, as a society we get out of this mental block, we shall not reap from the potential of women in leadership as demonstrated by Lady Justice Martha Koome," Dr Kilemi said.

She added: "The fact that Njuri Ncheke does not have room for women participation in leadership, of any shape or form, makes it hard for many Meru people to believe in women."

Building Bridges Initiative

Dr Kilemi, who also heads the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) secretariat, said the leadership model of the Njuri Ncheke has been overtaken by time.

"I grew up seeing them administer justice and promote peaceful coexistence. However, systems are meant to address day to day challenges. In many Meru businesses and homes today, women are the assumed leaders and bread winners. It is time this potential was reflected in the political scene," she said.

Njuri Ncheke Secretary General in charge of operations Josphat Murangiri, however, dismissed the call to change the council's leadership model.

He said Njuri Ncheke cannot accept women as members though it has never opposed their leadership.

"Dr Kilemi has held top positions including in the UN. Was she a member of Njuri Ncheke? The challenge we have is that our women are afraid of going into politics. Just as they beat men in classrooms, they should gather courage and fight for their space in politics," said Mr Murangiri said.

He said Njuri Ncheke would remain a men-only institution, to protect the culture of the community, but ensure fairness for all.

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