Patriarchy defines who can ascend to Leadership Positions


Patriarchy has a big hand in determining who ascends into the male privileged positions.

By Betty Muthoni

In Africa, most cultures are patriarchal and societies are organized around male leadership, preference and privilege.   The birth of a male child is given preference and recognition in comparison to that of a female.  In fact, female infanticide (killing of the foetus) is common especially in countries such as India, where dowry is given by the parents of a girl.  The male preference has to do with the family lineage and inheritance.   With this comes male privilege and entitlement that are unquestionable.  One such privileges and entitlements is that of leadership.

Women who train their attempt at leadership are often judged harshly for daring to get a seat that is not theirs.


Leadership has more to do with the responsibility of influencing people to do certain things in an organization, company or even a country.   Men and women have unique identifier that give them strengths in different areas.   For example women tend to be more relational and risk averse and are detail-oriented whereas men tend to be better strategic and risk drivers.  Both strengths are important components in leadership because if a leader has great strategic direction but does not manage those risks well, there could be serious limitations to that strategy.  Likewise, a strategy that does not serve the people that it is intended for will fall flat on its face.   Thus when organizations, companies or countries miss out on women’s comparative advantage in leadership, they miss out an important component.

Gender stereotypes

Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are so deeply ingrained that it is difficult for people to see their biases.  That is why we call the barriers placed against women invisible glass ceilings. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation recently did an analysis of how male and female CEOs are covered in the media.  Of the articles analyzed, 49 per cent mentioned gender when the piece was about a female CEO—while only 4 per cent mentioned gender when the piece was about a male CEO. Double the number of the articles focusing on female CEOs were more likely to discuss their personal lives than those focused on male CEOs.  When discussing a female CEO’s personal life, 78 per cent of the articles mentioned family. None of the articles analyzed discussed a male CEO’s children or family. Instead, these articles highlighted a male CEO’s background, personal plans for retirement, post-career ambitions, or their social life. And when evaluating articles written about CEOs during a time of crisis, 80 per cent blamed the female CEO compared to only 31 per cent that cited the male CEO as the source of blame.  Yet of the 50 per cent of women who have held the position of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies through 2014, 42 per cent were appointed during times of crisis, compared with 22 per cent of men in the same period—making the chances of females’ success less likely as well as their transition to another CEO role at a different company.

The same cannot be said when talking about men.

 Political arena

The political arena is where raw power is exercised much more than in other leadership positions because of its visibility and span of influence.  When women thus attempt to aspire to those positions, there is more resistance because it challenges male privilege and entitlement.   That is why in this arena, more divisive and negative features are used against women as opposed to men. Again women’s personal and private lives will be encroached on with microscopic lens and any iota of wrong doing found will be a recipe for impeachment.  On the other hand, male privilege allows them to do anything and still remain qualified to be leaders.

Society demands that for a women to qualify for an elective leadership post, she must first meet all the traditional qualifications of a “good” woman.  Secondly and most importantly, she has to be publicly validated by a man.  To illustrate my point on this issue, we will look at a few women that have ascended to powerful positions.   Latin-America has had the largest share of women in powerful political positions.  There is Christina Fernandez of Argentina, who succeeded the presidency after the death of her husband.  Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil was elected through the influence and campaign of Lula da Silva, the former President.  Michelle Bachelet President of Chile was a unique candidate because she was the first female in Latin America to ascend to presidency without any affiliation to a man.  Asia also paints a similar trend where women get to power through marriage or inheritance from their fathers.  They include: Indira Gandhi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Corazon Aquino and Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines, Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia all of whom have ascended to powerful positions through political dynasties of husbands or fathers.

In Kenya the trend is similar.  In 2007 the Ninth Parliament had the largest number of female elected leaders.  Over a third of those were from the Kalenjin community.  It was interesting to note that many had ascended to prominence through marriage or validation by men.  There was Sally Kosgey who ascended to power in the 1990’s under the wings of former President Daniel Arap Moi.  The others included Professor Kamar, Beatrice Kones, Joyce Laboso, Peris Simam and Professor Sambili all who were closely connected to influential leaders.  This is not to say that there aren’t women who have been elected without male validation, however, patriarchy has a big hand in determining who ascends into the male privileged positions.

The author is a senior lecturer at Kenya School of Government