Sarah Palin and Martha Karua, Is this what women are in politics, just a little seasoning of salt and pepper?

The introduction of Sarah Palin as the running mate totally revolutionised the Republicans campaign. Suddenly there was a breath of fresh air for the Grand Old Party, with its grand old presidential candidate. The citizens went out to the meetings, to see and hear her! Why is the gender card becoming a very significant consideration? 

On the local scene, we saw one presidential candidate take a woman as a running mate but the election aftermath indicates that this choice was only to hoodwink voters and the candidate did not really see the running mate as even deserving nomination to the parliament when the party had at least two slots. 

Generally, “public” politics have been patriarchal in nature and have been a very difficult arena for women.  In most of the campaigns, women are assaulted not only because they are competitors but because they are women.  For instance a significant number of women candidates who suffered brutal attacks during the 2007 campaigns were targeted by their competitors because they are the “weaker” sex. 

So are women key players in politics? Are women likely to change the political scene? Do we expect better leadership with women in control? Or are they just considered a bridge to the women folk who tend to be the majority in any populace?

So women need to play politics from Realpolitik perspective, looking at what is in it for them! Looking at where does the power lie and how can they can amass it? Perhaps not. Women need to be the people who will introduce the new values in the political system. 

Shirley Chrisholm, the first black congressional woman, had to overcome two hurdles to get to that position; the hurdle of race and gender. But in her analysis, she stated “as a black person, I am no stranger to race prejudice. But the truth is in the political world, I have been far often discriminated against because I am a woman than because I am black”.

Over decades women have been demanding for equality – to be given equal chance or opportunities in education, in employment, just to mention a few. For instance, it’s not until the 80s when women at lower cadre in civil service were accepted as permanent and pensionable. It was argued that the women would benefit from their husbands packages in the future and therefore they did not deserve.  At the same time, women were and sometimes are still paid less for the same or even more work.  The society has been skewed against women and this scenario needs to be changed.

But the recent political scenes indicate that we are yet to overcome this hurdle – from America to Kenya – people still ask, are we ready for a woman president? In the dialogue against inequalities, this should be considered, the wrong question, the unfair question! Why should people ask this question?  There is a system of prejudice that lies unspoken behind that question.  To quote the words of Shirley “the unspoken assumption is that women are different.  They do not have executive abilities, orderly minds, stability, leadership skills and they are too emotional.”

So is this the reason why the candidature of Martha Karua is so unpalatable, or is it because she has introduced the succession debate too early? Why do people think she is the only one talking succession? Everyone else with possible candidature is actually working on the possibility of being given the mantel – look at Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru. They are all positioning themselves for 2012. The only thing that differentiates them is where they are place in the political hierarchy. Our dear Martha, will have to work harder to be considered. So why not start early?

But is succession debate, discussions, positioning a bad thing for Kenya at this time? It seems bad, unnecessary, when it’s being done by one Martha Karua.  However, if we look carefully, everyone potential candidate is actually engaged in this process, discussions, lobbying and campaigning; only the processes are different due to the different positions each of the people hold. 

So if you are not in the club of the old boys, then you have to fight a little harder, use unconventional means and take a little longer since you are not likely to be an “Uhuru project”. So am all for Martha Karua, go gal!

During the trying times of our country early this year, Martha proved to be tough negotiator, principled politician and (many have misgivings about her role though but truth be told, if she did not stand firm, we would not be having a grand coalition, and our healing would not be any closer).  Actually someone defined Martha during that period “as the only man in Kibaki’s government”. Of course the statement is full of underlying prejudice that its only men who can do it; and that now that she is this strong, perhaps God gave her the wrong gender?

We ought to get rid of this prejudice and narrow mindedness. Women have and can do just as well in politics.

So women in politics, are not there just to spice things up, they are not the little salt or pepper we need to make the food tastier; they are not the people who add red and cream to the black suited parliament, they are key change agents and the day we shall embrace more women in politics and leadership in general, is the day our society shall experience real change and economic growth.