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Women leaders should play by acceptable rules

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Emilly C. Maractho (PhD)

A journalist last week called me and wanted my opinion on the UK’s decision to sanction three senior government officials. Her problem was that they are all women and she wanted to know how I felt about the ‘current female leaders’ in comparison to those in the past.

She wondered how, as an advocate for women in leadership, I felt about the sanctioning of these women and the quality of leadership the current women in politics provide.

Her framing of the issue was such that, the real problem was the fact that these were women, and that at a certain point in time, there were perhaps better female leaders who did not get embroiled in a lot of ‘mischief’.

It is the sort of question that makes you feel doomed to answer when they are framed that way. If you do not condemn those dishing out the sanctions, then you do not support other women, and as an advocate for women’s participation it should be a given that you not only support them but also condemn those who disturb their peace.

I told her they were not sanctioned because of their gender. I also explained to her that when women take up responsibilities especially in public office, they are not given different rules.

We cannot call up their gender whenever they are called to account, they should be held accountable. What would be problematic is, if those involved are both men and women but only women are being called to account. And in the case of reporting the matter, if women are held to a different standard of reporting than men. These are often my concern.

Some of our female leaders today are no doubt, a terrible mistake, a huge disappointment and an embarrassment. Yet, it would not be fair to say that it is because they are women that they are that disappointing.

If we applied the same indicators to our leaders today, the numbers that would qualify as terrible mistakes, huge disappointments and utter embarrassment are more than a handful, and they are not all women. The dissatisfaction with holders of  public office transcend gender.  It is all around us if you pay attention.

There is always a problem when we apply gender lenses in an unnecessary comparison. Such comparison, without examining the conditions in which two groups operated can bring us to the wrong conclusion. We tend to blame the individuals involved, but to be fair to them, we have created a system and weakened out institutions.

When policy makers are treated like children, the net result is that we end up with child-like plans and policies. Our level of policy engagement makes it difficult for these policy makers to enjoy some decent level of respect. The examples are many.

For instance, why would the budget figures be increased just days, or as some people have put it, just hours to the passing in Parliament? What does that say about Parliament  and the Executive? And what does it mean for all the other pre-budget processes that often lead to the discussion of the same? Look at all the billions thrown into the National Census, and as I write, I am still waiting to be counted.

When I think about the reporter and her expectation that I would show support for the three women leaders,  I was  saddened that we oversimplify these issues.

As a female leader, one should appreciate the support of the women they supervise. Support also includes being told you are going in the wrong direction. More importantly, expect the support of the team, not just women. That support includes for the women in the team to be honest, candid and critical when things are going wrong.  It would not be helping the leader if the facts were swept under the table. It is unnerving when a majority of the team that exhibits the most unethical and unacceptable work ethic are women.

The leadership of Parliament ought to be held accountable, if found culpable. That leadership is beyond one individual. And those things failing our institutions are beyond that individual, or Parliament for that matter, and we must look beyond the persons to address our institutional challenges.

The real concern should be if there is cherry-picking, and the only ones being held accountable and those implicated, are women. That would be a real problem on another level. Because they are women should not come up.

Leaders should all live by some basic standard of leadership. Blind support is the worst thing that can happen to a leader.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is an academic.                                                [email protected]