After the general elections of 2013, the number of women in the Kenyan parliament has increased significantly. This was due to concerted efforts by various stakeholders as well as affirmative action on gender as enshrined in the constitution. This was also due to the realization that as a country wholesome and meaningful development could not be achieved without getting women involved in political leadership.
Though we still have not met the desired target, it has been refreshing to see these numbers rise in the 11th parliament. The idea is that with a stake in running the affairs of this country, women will bring to the fore critical issues that affect them as well as the citizenry of this country. It was therefore a bit of a disappointment for me when watching news the other day , I heard of the efforts of Kisumu North ward representative, Caroline Owen, to have a motion passed in her county banishing women from sitting astride while in skirts when being carried by motorcycles. Apparently, the Luo culture does not permit women to sit with their legs apart as it portrays a ‘bad image’. See the featured story here. She also adds that the sitting position is uncultured and deprives women of respect because they ‘expose their bodies to men’.
Granted, she has a right to voice her opinion as any other leader, but I strongly disagree with her viewpoint. She argues that the position distracts the male riders. We cannot continue to confine our women and how they should live their lives in the confines of negative culture. Am not one to belittle culture, but it should be positive culture at that. Practices such as FGM (Female Genital Multilation), wife inheritance and early marriages have been strongly lobbied against because they work to the detriment of the rights of women. Negative culture also invokes matters of sexuality to yoke women and suppresses their right to choice and having a say in their very own lives.
The Kisumu North Ward representative in trying to push this motion assumes that we do not have women who own motorcycles and bicycles and use them to undertake activities in their everyday life. These women have to sit astride to operate these modes of transport which are not the preserve of men! As a leader she should be encouraging women to rise up and take up any viable economic activity that will help them lead a more decent life. Am sure that there are more pressing issues that women grapple with in her county that need attention. Issues like access to quality reproductive health services especially for pregnant mothers and sex workers, access to quality education, access to opportunities that create employment and a source of income for the women etc.
Telling women to dress and act a certain way in my opinion is irrelevant and should not be given the time of day. It is this same kind of retrogressive thinking that misinformed individuals use to justify rape. That when a woman dresses and acts a certain way she is prone to assault. It might seem trivial as it is, but am afraid as a leader who is an inspiration to many girls in her area, she is taking us back to defining women through the eyes of negative culture. That women have to behave and act in a certain way to appease the men, that before undertaking any activity, she has to think of how society will judge her. I’d also like to think that there are many men in Kisumu County who have never been bothered by this issue.
Let women carry on with their lives the way they feel best. You cannot dictate the mannerisms and dressing of either women or men for that matter, they have a right to simply choose what form of transport to use from point A to B and how to go about it. Let us focus on more important agenda, we have come too far in the right to choice for women to be taken aback.