Vive La Femme!
Growing up my icon was the late Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai, my mother can tell you how I wanted to be her. She embodied fierceness, firmness and resilience — words that I came to understand as I grew up. I also admired women who led and fueled revolutions from Mekatilili Wa Menza, Muthoni wa Kirima, Yaa Asantewaa and many more.
This is because when I was growing up my role as a woman centred on being a caregiver, nurturer and giving my power to a man. Either my father or the hypothetical husband gave to me at the age of 9–10 when I refused to do some of my chores.
‘Ivy! You know if you don’t wash the dishes your husband will throw you out!’
‘Ivy! You know if you don’t know how to cook your husband will throw you out!’
‘Ivy! you know if you don’t make your bed your husband will throw you out!’
I would respond, by saying that I would own my house.
I did not understand the concept of being evicted from a house by a man I had not even met.
Was I not able to own my own house without a man?
Then I read of women like Prof. Maathai, Mekatiili, Wangu Wa Makeri. Women who were doing more than cooking, and washing dishes. Yielding their power as women to speak up against injustices. Saving our forests, land, freedom, and rights and dismantling the patriarchy.
I wanted to be them!
Women have a long history of organising and protesting against colonialism, bad governance, police brutality, sexual gender-based violence, and misogyny.
This is because women, youth, and the LGBTQI+ community suffer the most under repressive regimes. Some recent examples of women-led protests include; The Women’s March 2017, the #MeToo campaign, the Sudan revolution, the #ShutItDown protest in Namibia, #EndSARS campaign in Nigeria. The women in these protests were not only organising but taking up roles as protectors and caregivers to the protesters.
Unfortunately, ‘liberation’ comes with the erasure of women from the process they catalysed and led. The negotiations often silence their demands or they come with conditions.
‘Yes, we will give you freedom but you will not be able to vote .’
‘Yes, we will give you freedom but you will not be able to take up any leadership roles.’
For example, in Kenya women played an instrumental role in the independence of the country. Yet, they struggle to get leadership roles in the government. Coupled with the laxity of Kenyan legislators to actualise the 2/3rd gender rule enshrined in the constitution.
So, why is it so hard for women to be made leaders yet they ignite revolutions?
I can only think of one answer — Patriarchy.
I hope that the digital age we live in will stop the erasure of women in major social movements. That as a society we will be able to enforce a fair and equal environment for all. That will enable more women to take up leadership positions.