Whenever most countries prepare to head for a presidential election and there is a female candidate on the ballot paper, most analysts and to a large extent the electorate wonder as to whether the particular nation is ready for a woman president. Pollsters even conduct polls to find out whether people are ready to elect a female president.
By the simplest of definitions, politically, a president is an elected head of a free state. Closer home, Chapter 9, Article 1, of the constitution provides that a person qualifies for nomination as a presidential candidate if the person is; a citizen by birth; qualified to stand for election as a member of Parliament; nominated by a political party or is an independent candidate and is nominated by not fewer than two thousand voters from each of a majority of the counties.
But why, despite the constitution not having a clause that prefers a certain gender to vie for the presidency, does the question on Kenya’s readiness for a woman president come up? Why do well developed nations and which serve as a mirror for democracy and equal rights shy away from female presidential candidates?
Most people who share the thought that women cannot make presidents have no rational reasons to back their claims. Some misogynous individuals have even gone to an extent of saying women cannot be presidents because it would mean abdicating their domestic role at home.
In the recent primaries in the US, Republican’s Michelle Bachman’s star turned out to be a flash in the pan after her support fizzled out. She was an ideal candidate for the presidency; focused, knowledgeable, a people’s person and untainted. But her supporters were willing to support serial adulterers instead of a woman compelling her to drop out of the race after her dismal loss in the State of Iowa caucuses!
However, misogyny did not end after Bachman dropped out of the race. Her presidential candidate rival Rick Santorium’s aide blatantly said that a woman could not be president. In an email, the aide, Jamie Johnson held: “The question then comes, “Is it God’s highest desire, that is, his biblically expressed will, … to have a woman rule the institutions of the family, the church, and the state?”
Leaders should never be elected because of gender but because of their capability to deliver to the nation. In Kenya, unity, development in the grassroots level, war on graft, fighting negative ethnicity, ensuring security for all, implementation of the new constitution are among a host of issues that will need to be addressed by the individual who takes office after the March 2013 elections.
Gender does not guarantee delivery of promises. Kenya has been ruled by male presidents since independence and 48 years later, the nation is yet to address myriads of issues like unemployment, historical injustices, poor infrastructure, lack of access to basic amenities, nepotism and negative ethnicity among others.
In nations where there have been female head of states, they have done considerably well if not better than what their male counterparts would have done.
Since her election in 2010, for example, Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made some great achievements: She has established Fair Work Australia to ensure people are treated with dignity and fairness in the workplace, increased hospital funding by 50 percent, invested in cancer research and treatment centres, increased the funds for pensioners and invested heavily in renewable energy among others.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's record on the helm is a success story and an example of how women, if given an opportunity, can excel in leadership. In 2006, Merkel was awarded the Vision for Europe Award for her contribution toward greater European integration; she received the Karlspreis (Charlemagne Prize) for 2008 for distinguished services to European unity; she was also awarded the honorary doctorate from Babeş-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca, Romania on 12 October 2010 for her historical contribution to the European unification and for her global role in renewing international cooperation; for her support of Jewish cultural life and the integration of minorities in Germany, Merkel was awarded with the Leo Baeck Medal by the Leo Baeck Institute, a research institution in New York City devoted to the history of German-speaking Jewry. This is just a few of Merkel's achievements.
Closer home, Liberia's 24th President and the first female head of state in Africa Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has received 21 awards for her exemplary leadership, the most notable being the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 2011. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Chile, Philippines, Nicaragua, United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Israel, Norway, New Zealand and Iceland among others have or had successful female head of states!
Currently, Kenya has two women who have declared interest in the presidency in the next elections slated for March 2013. Narc Kenya chair and Gichugu legislator Martha Karua, a lawyer and an ardent debater in Parliament and 28 year old Labour Party’s Kingwa Kamenchu have both declared interest in battling out for the post dominated by male contenders. In the past, female candidates contending for the post have been unsuccessful. They include Water and Irrigation Minister Charity Ngilu and the late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.
Using gender as a yardstick to measure the quality of a leader is misogynous, archaic, retrogressive and deluded. A good leader is either a man or a woman with good character and who lives in complete honesty; a good leader is a man or woman who is passionate and dedicated and who can inspire the people who he or she leads; a good leader is man or woman who is confident; a good leader is a man or woman who can fully reassure people in times of uncertainty; a good leader is man or woman committed to excellence, who is proactive in raising the bar and who is not comfortable being second best. These, besides the provisions in the constitution, should sum up the yardstick in which Kenyans should measure the quality of presidential aspirants and not their gender!