They have written several books, Half the Sky is their third, reading it angers me and also gives me hope in equal measure. It explores the political, social and economic issues holding back national and worldwide growth and progress, with 50 percent of the world’s able-bodied population stifled, victimized, despised or disregarded; girls and women.
Reading this book is a sobering reality to me because in my reality, women were never victimized in my environment. Women were equal in my eyes growing up from how my father treated my mother, to how my siblings and I were raised. We were all treated the same; the only difference was how our parents handled our temperament and gifting.
It was only when I was in my early teens when I started to watch the news and wonder why children weren’t going to school, that I noticed a difference between girls and boys. In my family, if an aunt or uncle couldn’t afford tuition fees, we fundraised and cousins went to school irrespective of sex. My family celebrated book smarts; one cousin of mine was a living legend. We were constantly encouraged to be like her, Lizzie was a straight ‘A’ student, the only other person I know who rivalled her brains in my nuclear family was my eldest sister, Emily. Emily was always at the top of her class, Math and science are what she adored.
My father loved smart kids, he would shower my sister and cousin with gifts. The smart cousins male or female were always cheered on and the rest of us average students constantly reminded to ‘Som!” ‘Som!’ – Read! Read! Because education takes you places, right. Lizzie is a much sought after anesthesiologist in Kenya, my sister, at the time of her passing, was an undergraduate student in Mathematics. Just the thought of it makes my head spin. These women – stars!
I had aunts who had masters and PhDs, instructing in university, teaching was a career my mother, and several aunts took up. I can’t actually think of an aunt who didn’t have a career who was not mentally incapacitated or physically handicapped to the point they couldn’t hold their own. The only aunt who didn’t have a career in my family was mentally ill, she had serious bouts of a psychotic disorder, I am not quite sure what it was to this day.
Teaching was extremely popular in my family, not just because it was one of the few careers available, at least for my mother, teaching was a job of passion and prestige. You see, my grandmother was a teacher. She inspired my Mum.
On my mother’s side, I am the fourth generation to get an education; it is only in adulthood I realized this was an exception, not a norm. By 21, when my mum got married, she had her career and her income.
My mum always told me growing up,
“it is important for a woman to have a career first then get married and build a family, so she can be an equally contributing partner”. And to drive in the point she would say, “Look at Aunty (so and so), look at them, they had a career then they got married and had children” there was always an emphasis on this order of events.
My grandmother had a career and raised my mum and her siblings equally. And girls and boys knew they could be anything they ever wanted to be. She actually defied a colonial rule which only allowed one parent to earn a living and another to stay home to raise the kids. In the changing times in the 1950’s, one income was too little for my grandmother to raise 9 children. And with an education, my grandmother raised teachers, administrators, accountants and other civil servants.
My female cousins have careers, they own property and there really are no qualms, I know of, with the men in my extended family. I realise now more than ever, reading Half the Sky, that what I have is a gift.
My father educated all his siblings to ensure they had bright futures, he had 2 brothers and 7 sisters, this is a lot of people to educate.
My maternal uncles did the same house chores as their sisters. And my grandmother offered them equal education opportunities. In Kenya, I am yet to hear of men being paid more than women. If there is any disparity it’s either because you didn’t negotiate your pay or your boss is just a prick trying to bleed you dry.
The disparities across sex is apparent when I look outside my family into Kenya’s larger society. Because in the broader society, women are seen as children; we should be seen and not heard. A woman with an opinion is a “nuisance” or “needs to be tamed” as if we are animals. I just don’t understand why my little microcosm, can’t be replicated nationally. As I write this, one statement came to mind, “speak up”.
I need to be more present in my community and show my world what a real society with proactive, educated and strong women is like, because, I have grown up in this environment.