Women have slowly and gracefully taken leadership and political roles that for many years were regarded as a male domain. Biological determinist Geddes and Thompson in 1889 argued that social, psychological and behavioural traits were caused by metabolic state.
Women supposedly conserve energy (being ‘anabolic’) and this makes them passive, conservative, sluggish, stable and uninterested in politics. Men expend their surplus energy (being ‘katabolic’) and this makes them eager, energetic, passionate, variable and, thereby, interested in political and social matters.
These biological ‘facts’ about metabolic states were used not only to explain behavioural differences between women and men but also justify what our social and political arrangements ought to be.
More specifically, they were used to argue for withholding from women political rights accorded to men because (according to Geddes and Thompson) “what was decided among the prehistoric Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament”.
It would be inappropriate to grant women political rights, as they are simply not suited to have those rights; it would also be futile since women, due to their biology would simply not be interested in exercising their political rights.
To counter this kind of biological determinism, feminists have argued that behavioural and psychological differences have social, rather than biological causes. For instance, Simone de Beauvoir famously claimed that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman, and that “social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature”.
Commonly observed behavioural traits associated with women and men, then, are not caused by anatomy or chromosomes but are culturally learned or acquired.
This explanation could be a factor to the change of attitude in the African man and towards women in the society and in politics or maybe the woman has simply over time proven that she is indeed worth and fit to stand in positions of power among the menfolk. I owe this rather slow but welcome development.
It is great that the political arena has a number of women like Jael Mbogo, Grace Onyango (the first woman mayor and elected legislator), Chelegat Mutai, Phoebe Asiyo, Charity Ngilu and Martha Karua, to mention but a few.
These are women who took their stand against male counterparts in elections and emerged winners. They helped prove to the electorate that they were worth their votes hence disapproving biological determinists, Geddes and Thompson of social, physical and biological traits that women cannot be active in politics.
The issue of third positions that has been given in the constitution and set to be experienced in both the political party nomination and at the parliamentary level has brought a lot of controversy.
By reserving the positions to female only takes us back to the assumption that women biologically are sluggish and uninterested in politics and of which has been proven that they are interested and can manage politics.
The only way this country will have the assurance that leadership by our women is indeed anything to go by is when women do not get these positions as handouts (nomination) but rather earn them through hard work, competition and playing to the beats of the political game.
It is high time women realised that the equality rights they have always fought for must be put in practice. If women are going to fight for gender equality then they have to learn that it comes with every aspect of life. Politics just as much, they will need to work much harder, get to the fields and campaign, sell their policies to the people and gather as many supporters as their male counterparts do. It is only when the people vote that it is clear they are ready for a female leader.
The excuse that politics is a dirty game and that the woman would not find it easy to take a stand in the game is a male thinking and farfetched. That which comes easily withers easily and, therefore, I challenge women not to wait for nominations to parliament but fight for it just like the men and those women who have fought and won under tough conditions.
I do not doubt the woman’s capability of leadership in politics or whatever area of life, I just believe time has come for women to claim those parliamentary seats just like they have claimed every other right out there. It has been proven already that today’s woman is very much capable of diligently carrying out her managerial duties just as much as the man and, therefore, it’s time she grabbed that opportunity on her own than on a platter.
Sojourner Truth, through her publication, Ain’t I a Woman, addressed women’s rights issues and argued that if a woman of colour can perform tasks that were supposedly limited to men, then any woman of any colour could perform those same tasks.
This article was also published in the Kenyan Woman Issue 26