Women in Power

I’ve had a bit of a mundane Sunday. But last Sunday was spent entertaining Meg Munn, MP for Sheffield Heeley constituency, which may provide a more entertaining update than today’s hand washing extravaganza!

A bit of background first: my flatmate here has a rather glamorous sounding VSO placement working with a group that supports Kenyan female Parliamentarians. Kenya introduced a WOW new constitution in 2010 which made a significant statement for gender equality by requiring that at least 1/3rd of all public offices be held by women.

Of course, implementing such a quota system takes time. And expertise.

Luckily, one of VSO’s initiatives involves placing political volunteers in short-term, high-impact placements. Enter Meg, who was here to help Kenyan politicians think about how a rule written on paper could become a reality.

Last Sunday marked the end of Meg’s two-week placement and mainly consisted of food and chat (including a visit to our less-than-glamorous local pub). But it was fascinating to discuss the options for increasing female representation and hear that in all likelihood getting there would take 15 – 20 years to achieve. Meg outlined how the UK Labour Party (her party) has increased female representation through the use of all-women short lists for winnable seats at election time. Or in less jargony language: if you want to vote Labour in one of these chosen constituencies then you will necessarily be voting for a woman.


Of course the debate rages on about using quota systems to achieve aims of reducing inequality in the first place: Are we getting the best candidates? Will we only ever get “good” candidates if we give aspiring young women strong female role models and show that politics isn’t a man’s game?

But luckily you don’t have to agree on quotas to agree that increasing gender equality is a good thing or – at the very least – a necessary thing! In a nice concise bullet list:

  • Women make up half of the world’s population. We could leave it there…but…we’ll go on
  • Women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce 50% of all food, but earn only 10% of world income and only 1% of property
  • Women are estimated to account for almost two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people globally who live in extreme poverty

In recognition of this, VSO is running a campaign about putting the needs of women high on the post-2015 agenda (again, in less jargon, the debate about what happens when the Millennium Development Goals come to an end).

Please take a little moment to sign their petition:

Otherwise, for those keen on stats:

  • Rwanda tops the table in the progressive stakes with women sitting in 63.5% of seats in Parliament!
  • Kenya comes 78th with 19.1% although if it achieves the quota target then it will join the ranks of the top 30 countries.
  • UK just beats Kenya coming in at 65 on the list with 22.6% of seats taken by women (House of Commons that is. The House of Lords is performing marginally better!)

For even more stats:





Will you marry me?

I’m getting to that age where quite a few of my friends are talking about getting married or actually doing it. It’s exciting! One question that occasionally comes up is “would you, as a woman, ever ask the man to marry you?”. The answer differs from friend to friend, with many feeling a bit squeamish about it. But until today I never realised how significant it was that we can even discuss this as a possibility…

As I’ve said, I’m trying my hardest to learn some Kiswahili. It’s very slow progress. Today, we were learning about conjugating verbs in the passive tense….snore! Until, we got to the verb “to marry” or “kuoa”.

I wanted to say “Lucy married Nick”. “Lucy alimoa Nick”. Incorrect my teacher interjected! Totally puzzled because I knew I had the form right, I queried where my mistake lay. Turns out, it is actually not possible to say a woman married a man in Kiswahili. A woman can only ever be passive in relation to the verb to marry. Or in other words, while Nick can marry Lucy, Lucy can only ever be married by Nick.

Yikes! After International Women’s Day I’m wondering if it would be possible to launch a subtle gender equity campaign by misusing the active and passive forms at high frequency?

Celebrating with Kilimanjaro

Saturday 8th March: International Women’s Day!

We had arrived at our hotel late at night after a long, treacherous drive down Mombassa Highway, swerving round haulage lorries and playing chicken with the drivers on the other side of the road. So it was a glorious surprise to look out the window of the hotel restaurant  the next day and see Mt Kilimanjaro standing tall and proud in the early morning sunlight.


The market stalls were eerily quiet for a Saturday. But for good reason! VSO volunteer, Alice, had managed to lure the ladies of Loitokitok and surrounds to take part in a day long celebration for International Women’s Day.

And so, under the watchful gaze of Mount Kilimanjaro, over 300 Masai women dressed in stunning traditional beadwork gathered to take part in a procession through town!




As the procession got going, with songs and dancing and huge smiles, the women weaved their way through town leaving the men to look on bewildered from the road sides!

Chatting to some of the other international volunteers on the way revealed a mixed picture of how we all recognised Women’s Day in our home countries. I was rather ashamed to admit I’d never considered celebrating it at home, particularly in light of the fact that these women had given up a day of earning much needed money to participate…

After about an hour, the procession reached the local stadium where we were inspired by a huge range of speakers on topics ranging from Female Genital Mutilation, violence against women, rights to property and the importance of women participating in decision-making and political processes. Heavy going topics lightened by short plays from the local theatre groups which made the local women laugh and cheer but left us non-Swahili speakers a little in the dark!


All in all a very special day that made me realise how much we take for granted our rights and equality in the UK… despite the fact that many inequalities still persist.

For more information about International Women’s Day visit:

And one last pic I couldn’t resist sharing! The best way of carrying bananas I’ve seen yet!


Sexual Networking

One topic my colleagues never tire of talking about – and I must admit I never tire hearing about – is sex. Considering how widely abstinence is promoted it is fairly amusing!

Very early on in my time at work I was sat round with my closest work buddies at the 10am All Staff tea break chatting over our daily Kenyan mixed tea and two mandazis. Talk quickly turned to which was better: for your husband to have a mistress or to have a second wife.

Unanimous agreement was reached almost instantly. Second wife! Why? At least you know her status then… (HIV status).

It was hard logic to argue with! And then I was put on the spot when I was asked why we Brits put up with secretive affairs and high divorce rates when legalising polygamy might provide a solution? I won’t get into the pros and cons of polygamy versus monogamy here but I would argue that at the very least women should be allowed to marry multiple men in the name of equity!

What I couldn’t understand in the following weeks after this conversation however, was why, if polygamy was so acceptable, did those people suspected of having a second wife or of looking for one get talked about in such hushed, gossipy tones. Turns out, in these straightened economic climes, if you can afford a second wife then everyone wants to know where you got the money to be able to afford them…!