JANE EYRE ON WOMEN: 19th Century lesson for Kenyan women

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally:but women feel just as men feel;they need to exercise for their faculties,and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do;they suffer from too rigid a constraint ,too absolute a stagnation,precisely as men would suffer;and it is narrow minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings,to play the piano and embroider bags.It is thoughtless to condemn them ,or laugh at them ,if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex”-Autobiography of Jane Eyre  (pg 106)Bronte .C

Charlotte Bronte’s famous book Jane Eyre was published in 1847 when just at 31 she published this great literary work that sought to emancipate women in the 19th century and show them there was life beyond the confines of a kitchen and the hum drum of home life.More than 160 years later much of Africa is now waking up to the fact that a woman can be more than a  A woman’s contribution to society can go further than the kitchen and this need to be relevant and lead a meaningful human existence is a basic human being that goes beyond gender description.More than one and a half century later she could be talking to the 40 million Kenyans who next year elect more women to parliament and the newly created senate than we have ever seen in the 50 years we have been an independent country.

When the new constitution was enacted it was said women would be guaranteed 1/3 of all elective posts,a lot of argument for and against this clause in the constitution has ensued.Fida Kenya even took the government to court over the constitution of the Supreme Court and we are yet to hear the last of the matter.

A lot of argument has been put forward by women over why they are entitled to these posts but we need to ask ourselves how many women especially outside the urban centres of Kenya even have the means to launch a respectable campaign for elective posts.Women in the country who for the longest time have always taken a back seat in leadership matters now have a chance to shine by electing fellow women to elective posts yet the biggest hindrance to these posts lies in the women themselves..

Kenyan women shine when it comes to  entrepreneurship and things like chamas( financial merry go rounds) have been so successful that women have been able to garner enough financial clout as to gain recognition by banks such that there have been accounts especially tailored to suit chamas and women.The government also noticed this and launched the women’s fund that was meant to support women groups and make them more financially independent.

Now as we settle into a new constitutional dispensation women have to come to the fore front and show their mettle as leaders.Already the men are crying foul that the women folk are being handed posts on a silver platter whereas they (men) have had to work hard to get elected.It is germane to point out the fact that we are just getting out of a very patriarchal society and probably the drafters of the constitution wanted to correct the skewed representation in parliament that was always in favor of the men.Maybe the transition to a more gender balanced parliament and senate would have been achieved more gradually by first tackling the impediments that block women from getting elected and by encouraging them to join political parties but it is what it is and we have to work with what the law laid out.

Kenyan women need to prove themselves worthy of the posts they have been guaranteed by the law,they need to join political parties that support causes or ideals that are close to their hearts.It is a fact that most Kenyans (not only women) do not belong to any political parties.We cannot expect to be elected  when we have  taken no initiative to popularize our ideals to the electorate whom we hope to elect us.If people do not know what you stand for what chance do you have of being elected?Women need to show they want the posts so bad the men will stop ,listen and vote for them.

Kenyan women have shown themselves to be among the smartest people we have around and you just have to take a look at the annual pull out of  Business daily’s Top 40 under 40 to understand that we are not short of some real gems in our women folk.Why then are most of them shying away from elective posts and seeking to go the route of formal employment or business and more are not choosing public service/Maybe it is because for too long the political waters have been muddied by the men and these posts have been left to the women of steel like Martha Karua with enough back bone to stand up to the men.Yet there are many more Martha Karua’s and Jane Eyre’s who everyday fight of societal prejudices and male chauvinism to rise above these constraints,it is time we joined these foot soldiers who have paved the way for us and further this great cause for the sake of the next generation of women.

Last year i had written a post asking Kenyan women to stand up and be counted here.My clarion call that was directed towards my sisters was  because the  next generation of Kenyan women who are still in school or in diapers are looking up to us,we owe it to them to be able to fight off the prejudices our mothers and grand mothers carried with them,that women cannot lead, that their place is in the kitchen and that they should be seen and not heard.It is time we proved the drafters of the constitution right,that in granting the privileges they did by reserving special seats for women it was not because of poor judgement but because they had seen and recognized the vital role women have played in the country so far and the immense potential they hold.

Over to you women…it is time you stood up for yourselves,be brave and face the crowds of naysayers who say women cannot rule.

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