Today, the world celebrates the International Women’s Day to recognise women’s achievements and gains in their struggles against patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, exploitation and oppression. We also celebrate men who have joined women in their struggles for gender equality and equity.
We also honour and glorify past gender warriors who are models for the continued struggles for women’s emancipation.
In Kenya, we pay homage to Me Kitilili wa Menza, the great Giriama woman who led a resistance against British occupation of Coast province. We also remember with pride Mary Wanjiru who in 1922 was martyred in the struggle to free Harry Thuku from captivity. We salute Gen Muthoni and other women Mau Mau fighters.
We salute women trade unionists, politicians, civic leaders. On this day, Kenyans should in particular reflect on a gender warrior we have all grown to love and hate.
Hon Martha Karua, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, is perhaps the most admired and reviled woman politician in Kenya today. For taking the political bullet for President Kibaki, she was seen as one of the major stumbling blocks in the Kofi Annan-led mediation talks.
As a woman in a powerful political position, Ms Karua has been subjected to sexist, misogynistic and ethnic slurs as well as all manner of abuses that our women leaders face. And people telling lies that she has no children must stop; she has a son and a daughter.
Kenyans should stop harping on Ms Karua’s divorce, which is an expression of freedom and a source of empowerment. It is an expression also of the struggle against male domination, sexism and misogyny and for general human development.
In many cases, women who want to be political leaders have no alternative but to offload the male baggage in their way of progress.
Of course, there are men who help their wives to venture into and develop in politics. Mr Michael Ngilu gave Charity a lot financial, moral and political support. At one point, he confessed that he hoped he would be Kenya’s “First Man” should she be president.
Criticisms are constantly levelled against reformers of yesteryear who become staunch supporters of conservative causes. Ms Karua is not alone as a target of the criticisms. And here she has enough company.
All reformers face being compromised and ending up spearheading causes they fought against for years. The argument that conservative causes can be subverted by reformers from within the conservative structures has been found to be politically opportunistic.
But what are Ms Karua’s other faces that Kenyans should appreciate and reflect upon?
As a woman, the minister has fiercely struggled against sexism and male domination. Her legacy in the Law Society of Kenya leadership in the early 1990s and as chair of the League of Women Voters is a testimony to this struggle.
MPs who insulted her in the chamber by suggesting that she should be circumcised, have lived to tell stories of a woman who did not suffer male chauvinism gladly.
Ms Karua has very admirable qualities which should be the envy of any Kenyan politician. Unlike many of them who tell the truth only by accident, she gives honest feedbacks. Whether by body language or verbally, you will surely get the message.
The Gichugu MP is courageous and speaks her mind. The international community will surely testify to her courage and openness. She may be accused of other failings, but definitely not hypocrisy. These are values Kenyans wish to see in politicians.
Ms Karua has political ambitious, too. It is common knowledge that she wishes to be president after the 2012 General Election. But it is time for her to reflect on her detractors at the national and civic levels. Besides, she has to woo back her key constituency — the women’s movement.
Her lack of diplomatic skills, as manifested at the Annan mediation talks, should be an invaluable lesson she can work on as she hones her persuasion capabilities.
Now that ODM Kenya leader Kalonzo Musyoka is not part of the grand coalition between ODM and PNU, which many Kenyans saw coming but he did not, shouldn’t President Kibaki consider appointing Ms Karua vice-president? Or is she more suited to the post of deputy prime minister so that she may learn from the two men she intends to outshine politically?