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Excuse me! Am not His Shadow

When will men in Africa awake from patriarchal stance? When will our fathers, brothers and partners understand that though behind every successful man there is a powerful woman, it is not obvious that successful men are behind powerful women?

On the 10th August 2009 while on a diplomatic mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was confronted by a question rooted in divine sexism. A male university student asked the US State Secretary what Mr. Bill Clinton thinks about the involvement of China and the World Bank in contracts in the Congo.

“My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am! So you ask me what I think, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channelling my husband.” Hillary answered boldly and unwaveringly.

Reports by both local and international media about this event have been followed by a lot criticism. Her answer has not been sweet honey for the men living in the cocoon of gender inequality as Hillary Clinton turned out not to be quite the cliché expected. In her rise to power, Mrs. Clinton has on several occasions contributed her personal opinion on Mr. Bill Clinton’s account but it was not to be this time round. She refused to allow the intellect, skill and the power within her be assessed under the shadow of her husband.

While some pundits say that she was a mess at an international diplomatic forum describing her answer as disrespectful, unservile and undiplomatic, others like me thought “How so? Hillary Clinton did not earn her credential as the Secretary of State because she bears the last name of Mr. Bill Clinton who happens to be a former President of USA.” She proved to the whole world that she is a worthy leader, driven by a powerful force that desires change and gender equality. The glass sealing she broke seeking the mandate of the people, for the highest office, was not because she is a former first lady but a woman with acumen in state legislation and public service.

Ideally, I find fault in the kind of questions and sentiments that aim to underrate women in decision making process. Such a question as was asked of Hillary in Congo, only seek to examine the ability and wisdom of a woman leader against the popularity of men. It aimed at challenging the power of a woman, the circumstances for which she acquires power and the influence of that power. Moreover, the question bore the uncensored description of the marginal role of women as defined by the rule of men in Africa.

I have noted with concern that it is not in DRC only that marginalization of women in this magnitude occurred. The same happened during Hillary Clinton’s visit to Kenya just a few days before she arrived in DRC. Particularly, a Kenyan man, Godwin Kemboi, took pride to remind Hillary about an offer of cows and goats he made in 2001 to Mr. Bill Clinton in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage. I am somehow embarrassed of my heritage listening to Kemboi defend his proposal and declaring that he would have added more cattle if Mr. Clinton would ask for additional price for his daughter.

How can a man of Kemboi’s calibre and stature turn a blind eye to the challenge of gender inequality in Kenya where young women are forced into marriages that are planned by their fathers and other male relations? How can he and others use the media spotlight pointing to the direction of Hillary Clinton to push for their interests of power and fame?

I cannot quit thinking that it is men like Kemboi or pundits who suggest that Hillary should have dealt with her fury in private, that undermined efforts towards gender equality, equity and empowerment of women. Their hearts are filled with low opinion that a woman’s worth is determined by men for men. That is why, with a bully and patronizing character, they bypass women in the decision making process, and can hardly heed to feminine advice.

This is a disgrace that women in Africa must not condone. It is injustice against women for such African men to override their capital interests with ego and chauvinism while denying the abilities, skills and talents of women leaders who have performed better in bringing forth development, peace and stability in the continent. It is also distasteful that at a time like this when women in DRC are battling the atrocities of war, when girls in many parts of Africa are fighting for the right to education denied of fathers with greed to earn dowry, a few men in Africa choose to believe that women are inferior and incapable.

African women must mirror their abilities against the daring spirit of Hillary Clinton and demand from men to respect us for whom we are not for the patronage our fathers, brothers and spouses. Our feminine call is to empower women and stir up development in the continent. We cannot afford to sit back, wail in private at every humiliation and allow a continuation of faulty leadership of patriarchy. It is time now for African women to arise from under the shadows of being told not good enough, to a place of substance where we must secure an inheritance of power for ourselves and our daughters. Power shall not be given to us on fine silver platter. No. We must fight for it and vow to stay no more under the shadow of patriarchy.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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