Sandra Atieno and Fridah Maina; in defense of a Course Traditionally Misunderstood

Sandra Atieno. She wants to be a gender issues’ analyst and expert

Both Sandra and Fridah are students at Egerton taking Gender, Women and Development Studies. The former is a first year, the latter a finalist. Here in an interview with OneStepBeyond they defend a course perpetually misunderstood by many folks.

Why did you choose this course?

FRIDAH: I would be lying if I say I intentionally chose this course. I didn’t know what it entailed and the term baffled me as well. It was my last option just to get done with the whole process of career choice. I always wanted to be a lawyer or a news anchor. But ¹K.U.C.C.U.P.S, gave me a placement in the course. I even tried an inter-faculty transfer but three weeks into the lectures I fell in love with the course. And disregarded the outcome of the transfer.

So why did I love the course? I love working with the society and that is the vertebral column of the course. I love the law, and for one to be an effective gender expert, the law ought to be in ones finger tips. So yes…I love the course since, in a special way it entails what I would gladly do even without getting paid – fight for the minority and give back to my community.

SANDRA: Over the years, it has been noted that gender issues are the main cause of deterioration of the economy in the society. After a deep contemplation, I decided to choose the course Gender, Women and Development Studies for a better economy and along it a better society.

Fridah Maina (in the background) with her family. She wants to take up law in the same direction after her foundational studies at Egerton.

Gender is a term baffling to many, majority think it is synonymous with women. Clear the air please.

FRIDAH: What many people do not understand is that there is a difference between sex and gender in the field of our study. Sex is the biological difference between a man and a woman that is, act of being male or female. Gender, on the other hand, are the culturally and socially constructed attributes and roles ascribed to human beings on the basis of their sex. Like men don’t cry..they are macho, providers… While women are just emotionally weak beings, who are nurturers and their place is in the kitchen. So gender is not women… It’s about both sexes. As a course, its inclusive of: The disabled,the aged,the marginalized. Its very wide and diverse.

SANDRA: Gender is a term that has been wrongly understood, defined and perceived by the society. Academically, gender is the socially and culturally constructed differences of either male or female. It should therefore be noted that in its study, we not only focus on the women but both women and men in the society.

What is the place of the male child and men within the frame of Gender, women and development studies?

FRIDAH: I begin by saying that the term ‘women’ was recently removed from the courses’ name, therefore it’s now GENDER AND DEVELOPMENT STUDIES. I began by saying that gender is about both sexes. For any community to embrace change, it should be understood that women are also important in the society, men have to be on the same page in this. This is because they are the policy makers, and they occupy the central position in leadership for any community. They therefore are the greatest agent in spreading the gospel of women emancipation from discrimination and insubordination by culture as a result of socialization. Therefore  they are very important in the study.

SANDRA: The main picture or portrait that comes out when the male child is mentioned during the study is that they have dominated the society in various aspects such as beliefs, norms and rights. But this course gives the male a favorable and positive attention a much.

Discredit the idea that Gender, women and development studies is a walk over, unimportant field of study as many may put it?

FRIDAH:  I have heard many say, “Gender is for lazy people, you guys have fewer units hence you should all have first class honors. It’s a walk over, it takes no effort in passing” and many other belittling statements. Let me make it known that so far, there are no first class honors in this year’s class. That is cumulative of first and second year’s transcripts. Third year’s transcripts are not yet out. There are a few people with resits too. Clearly, if it was so easy passing this course, the above shouldn’t be the case. Gender requires a lot of research, being at per with emerging issues and current world, reading so many theories, more than ten legal instruments which are wider than the constitution. Which need to be read, understood, interpreted, criticized, analyzed individually. The constitution and the list is endless. I would say being in a Math class is easier than being in a gender class. In addition what’s easier? Being in an office dealing with numbers, or being in a  community dealing with different people with different problems and sitting in late night meetings formulating laws that affect the society, the country and the world? Besides, every field of study has its challenges and gender is not an exception.

SANDRA: It’s quite saddening when you find out that the people who criticize this course are the same people who lack knowledge on the same. They are even incapable of defining the term gender to be precise. Gender, women and development studies is equally important as medicine, engineering and other noble courses. In the study of gender we get knowledge on gender issues, position of women in the society and how gender and development associate. As we all know knowledge is power and therefore the knowledge of gender as a study gives us the power to change the society and minds of people.

Media portrayal of women leaders in Kenya such as Ida Odinga, Rachael Ruto and Margaret Kenyatta tie their identity to their prominent husbands…how wrong is this?

FRIDAH: Its definite that the women mentioned above will automatically have their identity tied to their husbands which is counter productive in my opinion. Behind every successful man there’s a woman. Therefore, if the prominent individual does an unquestionably impeccable job, the woman will get the credit even though they may not have contributed even a minuscule effort in the success. Likewise, if the husband does a shoddy job then the wife will still share in the mud. The two are in a marriage no matter bad we want them to be two distinct individuals, they share everything. However, we have seen these women having their own initiatives. Which one way or another still gives credit to their husbands. A good example is the beyond zero campaign by Margaret Kenyatta. Which gave birth to the mobile clinics to bring the child mortality rate beyond zero. This is a personal initiative but still gives the husband more credit than she.

SANDRA: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a feminist, in one of her Ted talks said that it all starts by teaching our daughters that they all matter just as much as boys. Why teach your daughter to become a good wife and not a CEO and yet teach your son to become a good leader and not a good husband? The media is wrong when it identify’s a woman as a wife to a prominent person because they believe that the woman wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for her husband. They forget that for some reason, women are also capable of being prominent and own titles. A good example is Wangari Maathai, she was great and prominent with no help of a male figure.

What might be the gender logic behind setting lower cut-off points for ladies and slightly higher for men by K.U.C.C.P.S?

FRIDAH: We call it the affirmative action. In this context, it is set to ensure that no sex is discriminated against in terms of education. For the longest time in history the boy child has been the dominant figure in the institution of higher learning. This was so as there were many barriers that hindered the girl child from getting to that academic level, and some of these barriers are constant till date. These include but not limited to: 

  •   Biological factors such as the menstrual cycle. Most girls in the marginalized areas are not privileged to have sanitary towels. This meant they stayed at home during that time of the month for at least for days every month while the boy child is in class. How much time is this girl losing from school. If not for the pads, then for the tremendous pain experienced during this time, the girl loses her time from school 
  • Talk of domestic chores..when the boy child gets home and does whatever after school, the girl has chores to do. Cook, fetch water, collect firewood etc. No spare time for studies.

  • Boy preference, most parents especially less civilized would prefer the boy in school to a girl. After all won’t she get married and her academics will end up benefiting the husband? 

  • FGM for communities that practice it. After the practice, the girl is ready for marriage and her education is cut short.

That to mention just but a few. Hence, the lower cut off points was meant to bridge such gaps. To ensure as many girls as boys attain university and college education. Once the gap is bridged then the affirmative ceases to have power. Hence this is not a forever practice.

SANDRA: K.U.C.C.P.S sets lower cut-off points for ladies to bring about what is known as gender equity. Over the years, it has been noted that the male perform better than the female and therefore K.U.C.C.P.S lowered the cut-off points for women to enable them get entries to university. In this case therefore, gender equity leads to gender equality.

Are you a feminist? What exactly is feminism? Bashing men?

FRIDAH: Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, social movements that have a common goal; to define and establish political, economic and social equality for both men and women. It’s about seeking same treatment for both sexes without discriminating on either. Personally, I am not a feminist since I do not believe in equality but equity. Equality wages war on men as it goes against the status quo of both societal and biblical beliefs. In a great way it appears to victimize the woman and make the man responsible for all the misgivings of a woman. Which I do not entirely agree.

SANDRA: No. Feminism is not bashing men. It is the advocacy to change on how the world or society perceives women. It is not accompanied in making women stronger because women are already stronger. Rather,it involves putting the women’s rights on the ground of equality.

What a man can do a woman can do better. If a man can kill Osama, a woman should capture him alive. Is that what the statement means? Walk us through in light of gender equity and gender equality.

FRIDAH: What a man can do a woman can do better in my opinion is a saying that is overrated. Truth is, there are cooks that are women, but better male cooks, a good woman hairdresser but great men hairdressers. I believe anyone can be the best at what they do if they give it their all. But the truth of the matter is; there’s that which men are best at. Who in their homes change a bulb when their brother is around or work on electronics in the presence of a male figure? Do we not believe in men doing a better job in such areas? It’s not because a woman can’t, its just that they are geared towards that, just as women are geared towards nurturing. If it’s the reproductive roles, a woman will do an amazing job. She is wired that way. She is affectionate, loving, nurturing, she’s emotionally supportive. Does that dispute that men cannot thrive in such duties? No? It’s great if we would appreciate our special abilities. Allow the men to thrive where they are most comfortable and vice versa. This will create a harmonious living where we appreciate and support each other without competing. In my opinion Equity is key, fair and just treatment to all men and women. Equality honestly is not achievable and the quest for it is a lost battle.

SANDRA: “What a man can do a woman can do better” is just but a statement that is put to uphold and remind the women that they are capable of achieving whatever a man would have and even better. We’ve seen countries with female presidents being better than ones with male presidents such as President Joyce Banda of Malawi (April 7,2012-May 31,2014).

Comment on the progress of Kenyan women in terms of their legislative influence such as tenure, leadership positions and prestigious committee memberships.

FRIDAH: I feel as a country we are doing a good job. Though we have not attained the required threshold of 2/3rd gender rule. Legislative role is fundamental to the country and having women in such positions ensures gender sensitive policies. So far, we have three female governors yet we had non in the previous government. This shows women’s leadership abilities are being recognized and appreciated. We have women senators and Nakuru prides to have ours in the senate. In a nutshell, women are no longer staying in their comfort zones as before, they are coming up and defying societal expectations and orientations to take up the challenge and proving worthy of the positions they take. Of course there are a few who are corrupt and tarnish the good image that has taken long to build, but hey…every family has that one black sheep.

SANDRA: The late Wangari Maathai said that the higher you go the lesser women you find. Kenyan women are fond of fearing to take charge in leadership positions and prestigious committee memberships, not because they don’t stand a chance but because of the view from the society.The society views women as mothers and wives but not leaders.

Finally, how important is this course to the continent right now? What are its contributions?

FRIDAH: Women are the core of every success, a home, a family and or a country. Therefore, it is important for them to be empowered economically, in terms of agriculture, leadership, education, environment and development as a whole. And gender studies is also about the above. This will lead to development in areas that have been ignored for a long time. They say educate a woman and you will have educated the whole community. Hence, gender studies allows for the unreached women to be reached and for the men to be in a position to support women in this great revolution.

SANDRA: The fact that the course deals with cultural change, women empowerment and gender mainstreaming is already an evidence of it being important and progressive. The field of study widens our way of thinking about both men and women. It enables us to do away with cultural practices that destroy our society and also empower women in leadership all over the world.



¹ Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement System


11 thoughts on “Sandra Atieno and Fridah Maina; in defense of a Course Traditionally Misunderstood

    1. Grt job Sandra and FRIDAH.can you talk about the relationship between gender and marriage wht role does it play and how is your take abt marriage

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I like this. It’s awesome.You are a true dreamer Sandra with the future if society in her hands.God bless you. I wish you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The article has really opened my eyes regarding the course and on sensitive issues surrounding gender..

    In short the article is purely awesome…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is commendable job dear keep it up the good work.. We are soldiering on together for gender equity and equality


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