It’s International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March. Women in Kenya have come a long way. Growing up, there are so many things that a boy child will get away with that a girl won’t. While boys are out taking risks, breaking bones, playing in the mud, falling off trees, rolling inside tyres, skinny dipping, getting home after dark and leaving early the next day before sunrise for more adventure, the girl is at home. “Safe.”
Where is the girl, when the boy is creating, destroying and rebuilding stuff? Where is the girl when the boy is learning how it feels to be celebrated when he scores for his team? Where is the girl when the boy is learning to trust himself as he learns to ride his friends’ bike? Where is the girl when the boy is learning to take risks? She is at home. “Safe”.
Behave like a girl. So they say. A girl is clean and tidy. A girl does not climb on trees or ride bikes. A girl does not sit like that or talk like that. Don’t slouch walk upright, like a girl. What kind of a girl comes home “looking like a boy?” A girl does not play with boys. No, they are not to be trusted. They are always up to no good those boys.
Go wash the dishes and when you are done, please tidy up your brother’s room. You know how irresponsible he is (as if cleaning his room for him will somehow make him more responsible.) Set the table, clear it and make your father some tea, you know how he likes it before he goes to bed. It’s almost dark go call your brother (and he better not touch anything before he showers am sure he looks like a squirrel.)That marks the life of a girl’s childhood.
Sadly, even after spending a lot of time around her mother, the next phase of her life catches them both by surprise.Periods, cramps, mood swings and major body adjustments. No one prepares her for the changes. She eventually learns the hard way; on her own. Meanwhile the boy will only get a few pimples here and there, break their voices and just like the girls, hair may appear in “unlikely places.”
Soon after, the girl,now a lady leaves her parents’ home gets a job, gets married, becomes a wife and shortly after, a mother. This means more changes to her name, her body (her skin, her weight, her nails, her hair) her health (blood pressure, dizziness, fainting) her moods, her emotions, her lifestyle and her responsibilities. A few more years and she is the one yelling, “Act like a girl!”
You would be forgiven to think that’s all the woman goes through. Another change happens – Menopause. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, increased irritability, insomnia (and not because the husband sleeps so well that he snores), depression, decreased libido, weight gain among other changes. All these changes take place while life demands that she still fulfills her other responsibilities as a wife, mother, daughter, employer/employee, sister, friend, citizen not forgetting herself and the things she likes.
That’s not all that most women go through. Most women will be robbed the opportunity to get a good education, make an informed decision about their career, family planning and civic responsibilities like voting. Girls will undergo Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM-C), while others will be married off at early age. Their chance for a better future will be traded for a few goats. They will walk miles and miles to fetch us water, lack adequate maternal healthcare, work tirelessly in our farms, sleep late and wake up early to make sure everyone else is ready and has what they need for their day.
Every man will tell you; say what you want about my father or anyone else but if you mention my mother, be sure blood will be spilt. Every man is overprotective of his wife, sisters and daughters. But our country is still not safe for our women. Why is a society that is nurtured and brought up predominantly by women, still so insecure and a threat to the same women to the point of causing them harm?
We can never bear the responsibilities that women do but surely, we can support them and champion them to greatness. It’s our turn as husbands, fathers, brothers and sons to encourage the women to step up and step out. To pursue their dreams as we did ours. It’s our turn to give back.
You can buy her a mansion and employ subordinate staff for her so that she never has to move a muscle. You can take her for a holiday around the world. That’s not even a privilege in comparison to what mothers sacrifice for their children. We can never give back what they have given. But there is something we can do. There must be. We can empower them.
The greatest myth buster is for us men to fight for equal opportunities for women. To judge them based on skill and ability as opposed to gender. If we can entrust them with a family, we can entrust them with a community. If we can entrust them with a community we can entrust them with a country. What else should women do to prove that they can lead? Yet we let them down year in, year out.
Men, it’s our turn to #MakeItHappen for our women. Our actions, more than our voices, need to be heard now more than ever. FGM would be a thing of the past if men said so, early marriages, teenage pregnancies and girls dropping out of school would be a tale if men wanted it to be. Crimes against women including rape and violence against women would be unheard of if men chose to stand up for women.
Surely the time has come. It’s our turn to nurture and support the women. There is nothing weak or cowardly about that. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength and courage to stand up for someone else. Giving women the opportunity to be great is more than a right or a privilege. It is an honor! We can start the change and form a new culture for generations after us.
You and I can #MakeItHappen. Have an inspired International Women’s Day.
Edited by: Wanjiku Kimaru