Looking back at my upbringing, gender discrimination was a fact I didn’t have to contend with; after all we outnumbered the males 8 to 2 in my father’s house. The 8 of us children 7 girls and one boy learnt to share and work for things early enough, we were all sat in elevated positions as equals in our parents eyes, an elevation that was our first empowerment- to aspire for bigger and better than our parents had achieved; a privilege that I did not take for granted.
For his generation, my father and his large brood was the average Joe, he didn’t try to keep up with the Rockefellers and Kardashians, and he was more at par with the Ndungu’s and Otieno’s. What he lacked in money he had in wisdombecause as an employee of a middle level company he knew a Rockefeller lifestyle wouldn’t see his children through school, the one surety he wanted to guarantee his children- a great education. Being 8 also turned my father into a juggler- he knew how to shift his resources left to right- what to suspend in the air and what to hand down to us - meaning his savings were low, so were his investments all except for the investment in our education.
Indeed as I pen this article I salute you the late Ashbell Kiraguri, your bending over backwards for your brood paid off, you wanted and you gave the best to your children and through you, we are doing our part in transforming our societies.
Needless to say dad’s master plan didn’t work without the enforcer none other than my mother. Married at 17, and coming from a totally different background and skill sets than my father, she is the glue that still holds us together. Like many of her age mates, she had little formal education, but she had a “PhD” in housekeeping, nutrition and economics - toiling on the farm to feed us, knowing when to buy new clothes or have a patch stitched onto a torn dress. She understood very well what an education meant and made sure she played her part in our getting the very best - indeed the pillar in our home.
So I dare ask: did it matter that my father had an education superior to my mother? Were my parents empowered? In my eyes, yes – both were were empowered in their own spheres of influence and my argument stems from the very definition of empowerment:
Empowerment is a multidimensional social process helping people gain control over their own lives; a process that fosters power in people for use in their own lives, their communities and in their society, by acting on issues they think as important. “Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities.” (Retrieved from http://www.empowermentillustrated.com).
Goodrich describes empowerment as: “a benevolent but unilateral transaction in which one person enhances another’s ability to feel competent and take action, that is, enhances another’s power-to” (Patricia, Darlington & Mulvaney, 2003, p. 12
It is interesting to note that most of the dictionaries show a pre-twentieth century definition of the verb empowers meaning 'to empower', and 'to give power to'. The word was first used in the 17th century and has meanings like 'authorise’, ‘delegate’, or ‘enable’. The term empowerment, as a result, is a complicated idea. However, I believe, it implies the transfer of power in a dynamic way over a period of time
More recently, the World Bank also defines the term empowerment as “the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes.” Central to this process are actions which both build individual and collective assets and improve the efficiency and fairness of the organizational and institutional context which govern the use of these assets
While numerous definitions exist, what is clear is that empowerment has an element of transfer of abilities to make decisions. This now brings me back to my question - were my parents empowered?
By getting married, my parents had been empowered by their parents and the communities at large that endorsed such unions to go forth and start their families. Being welcomed into my father’s family is in itself empowerment for mum and through her endorsement as head of the household when my father was away; she was further empowered to oversee family logistics, finance, fashion, health, nutrition, discipline and social engagements. She made most decisions from - as basic as our sleeping arrangements (i.e. knowing how each of the 8 children would sleep, and in which shared bed), to how much of my dad’s income to spend on our never ending demands. Her decisions were final and accepted because she was empowered to make them.
Dad with his education had a different set of empowerment tools; being formally employed, holding a bank account and owning a small red car (a Datsun to be precise). He saw the world differently through literacy, buying his newspapers sitting on the rocking arm chair to read the newspaper and then interpret the content for my mother (Some stories sounded a bit exaggerated but my poor mother had to contend with the information). He lived first-hand the benefits of an education in an era where most of his peers had missed out, thus driving his desire to accord the same to his children. He built the house, and he owned the land which we live in, and the combination of these two meant the homestead was generally then considered empowered.
Fast forward to 2018, a paradigm shift has occurred, and so too has the definition of an empowered woman. The fundamental role of the woman to take care of her household has been diminished; more is expected from today’s woman as she now has to learn my father’s art of juggling. Changing lifestyles and cost of living means fending for the family has taken podium position - literacy alone is not enough- the modern woman has to be technologically aware, networked, entrepreneurial and proactive. Kudos to Kenya’s government basic education is a right of every citizen, a right that coupled with changing societal expectations has largely shattered (not completely) the glass ceilings for many women empowering them to realize, and exceed, their expectations.
Today, thanks my parent’s efforts and that of their generations before them, I am proud to be in a space where the disparity gap between men and women is narrowing and more women have taken leadership roles in politics, industry, community, academia, and family among others.
The statistics have changed since my mother’s youth and Kenya has made tremendous strides towards empowerment of women. Kudos to all playing their part to empower the Kenyan woman.
However, just like Malala quoted
However, I remain cognizant to the fact that gaps still exist - hostile environments or regressive cultures still deny many of us our rights to an education, capital, healthcare and human rights, and it is thus critical for those among us who are empowered to ensure we leave no one behind. For those of us that received a lot, more is expected from us as we give especially when the baton, in this never ending relay, passes through our hands.
In the words of Mayo Angelou – Still, I rise…, Still We rise.