By Connor J. Wangler and Erin K. Morris
No, not the large feline known for its astounding running speeds. “Cheetah” has taken on a new meaning when it comes to political governance; a new type of leader devoted to true democracy and focused on elevating conditions of life for its constituents. Kenya is at a crossroads between leaders of old, the so called “Big Men” of Africa such as the Kenyatta family, and these “cheetah” leaders. One of those trying to effect change in Kenya is Dr. Phoebe Muga Asiyo (AKA “Mama” Asiyo), the Chairwoman of the Kenyan-based Caucus for Women’s Leadership. Dr. Asiyo was a Member of Parliament from 1979 through 1997. Some would argue this long service in politics makes her ineligible to be considered a “cheetah,” but what defines Dr. Asiyo as a “cheetah” is her work fighting for women’s rights and role in political participation.
According to Standard Digital News, one of Asiyo’s most important achievements was the 2000 passage of an Affirmative Action motion, known as the Asiyo motion, to ensure proper representation of women and other minorities in political representation. She is also the former Chairwoman of Maendeleo ya Wanawake, a Kenyan non-profit focusing on empowering women to “make choices in matters that directly affect them socially, economically, and politically.” She serves as United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNIFEM) Ambassador for Africa and served as the President’s Advisor on Gender Issues during the 2005 UN MDG meeting.
Dr. Asiyo’s work is credited by many, including the UN, as having made significant impacts on reducing poverty through gender equality. “Six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are women…” and they are often the primary familial caretaker. Empowering women to elevate themselves out of poverty will have ripple effects through those for whom they care; equal rights will bring increased household income and purchasing power, thus supporting economic growth. There are, however, several obstacles to fighting gender inequality, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In many communities women earn less than men for doing the same work or they face extreme job insecurity. Other issues that make this goal difficult to achieve are social values that encourage early marriage and pregnancy that pull young girls out of school. The IPS released an article discussing the challenges facing young girls and education: “Reduce Poverty in Africa-Educate a Girl”
Another group focused on promoting gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa is SOAWR (Solidarity for African Women’s Rights). One way the international community promotes this issue is International Women’s Day (March 8, 2014).
Kenya right now finds itself grappling in gray areas of “Big Man” and “Cheetah” leaderships. Recently, several incidents of violence caused by ethnic and religious tensions have caused for heavy-handed counterterrorism measures, according to Freedom House.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch reported that crimes committed against ethnic Somalis who were also Kenya citizens and residents that included sexual assault, excessive force by police, and arbitrary detention. This lack of accountability for law enforcement threatens personal sovereignty of Kenyans. This type of power is caused by a very “Big Man” view of the government.
Additionally, democracy is a flawed concept in this Eastern African nation. Voter fraud and registry corruption spurred a constitutional referendum in 2010 that focused on creating a more transparent system that makes elections more legitimate and competitive. Even with measures, Kenya still ranks 136 out of 177 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
For women, their own personal sovereignty faces its own challenges. Rape and abuse cases go largely unreported and even they are reported are rarely investigated. While efforts have been made to prevent female genital mutilation, the practice still reaches to rural, less progress areas. Women have certain rights limited especially in the areas of property, matrimony, employment, etc. Dr. Asiyo’s Cheetah leadership has made strides to give more of a voice to the women of Kenya and some legal and constitutional reforms have been made, yet there is still a long way to go.
Below is a video of what women in Kenya must face in their everyday life.
Check out these other sources for information on poverty reduction and justice in Africa: