By Ephraim Ngugi

Perception is reality. Perception is shaped by a person’s socialization process. Leadership is by and large a subjective concept; a function of perception.

In most patriarchal societies like Kenya, most men and women associate  “leader” with “physical strength” and strength implies “man”. In my humble opinion,this has contributed immensely to the relative paucity of women in elective positions, and by extension in senior leadership positions in all other social spheres.

Leadership has since changed both as a concept and in it’s role in the society. However, we are yet to give up those age-old notions of a leaders being associated with physical strength and hence men. We therefore socialize our children the same way. Boys and girls grow up knowing that boys are, and will always be leaders. This usually has a negative impact on the young girls, and on the overall position of women in the society.  Your daughter will fail in maths and not because she is incapable: because we say maths is for boys. She will not work as hard as she would otherwise do.Truth be told,  maths & sciences are hard for most boys too- trust me, I talk from experience! We just worked hard at it.

At the core of leadership is an implied “ability” or “capacity”. A leader is one who exhibits relative strength in a certain sphere. This has nothing to do with gender. As it’s often said, if we judge a fish by its ability to ride a bicycle, it will forever live believing it’s stupid. Unfortunately, leadership is mainly a subjective concept; a function of perception. If we keep on raising our daughters with the perception that their greatest ambition should only extend to having the grandest marriage ceremony in the village …

One social sphere that has really suffered under this leadership perception is politics. Political leadership happens to be the most overt form of leadership, and as such has the greatest  potential of influence in the society,  Once we change the perception of women as leaders in the political sphere, it’s easy to cascade it down to all other social levels. My hypothesis is that gender parity in all other social spheres will always lag behind gender parity in politics.

Few women in leadership positions (especially in politics)  will lead to women rights being thrown under the bus, so to speak. I am aware of many  initiatives to increase the number of women in politics, but most of them have been focused on women leadership training, few if any being focused on voters. My contention is that we do not have a shortage of women leaders, but rather, we suffer a severe shortage of voters who believe women are as good leaders as men, and, therefore, would vote for women. Wangari Maathai, a  Nobel laureate, lost her bid for reelection as an MP and also failed in her presidential bid. I am not so sure that it’s because she lacked leadership qualifications.

Connect with Ephraim on twitter and/or on his blog.

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