Two clear camps have formed in the court of public opinion; to the one camp she is a villain, to the other a strong woman not afraid to speak her mind. On social media, the immediate former judiciary Chief Registrar, Gladys Boss Shollei, has been a trending topic since she was fired last week over accusations that included incompetence, insubordination, financial misappropriation and misbehaviour.
The whole saga has left a less than dignified and rather sour taste on the country’s collective and rather incensed taste buds. The very public firing, announced by no less than Chief Justice Willy Mutunga himself, followed by Shollei’s press conference in which she accused the Judicial service Commission of acting as a Kangaroo court when it investigated her; the series of press conferences, interviews and publicly traded “he said” ”she said” and “they said” accusations belie the dignity normally associated with the judiciary.
The truth or falsity of the accusations will no doubt be revealed as bodies such as the anti-corruption commission step in to investigate, and the justice or unfairness of Shollei’s sacking will be made known. In the meantime, some interesting societal attitudes have been revealed from the unfolding saga regarding the traits and strengths that Kenyans are seeking in women leaders, and those that may cause some discomfort to the more conservative of Kenyans.
Many of her detractors have focused on Shollei’s personality and tone, complaining that she talks too much and does not “respect her employer”. In an interview on national TV, she was even questioned about her religious affiliation. This raises an interesting dilemma for women leaders. If they chose to be outspoken, opinionated leaders, they risk disapproval from a section of society; if, on the other hand they settle into the somewhat meek but traditionally accepted persona popular with the more conservative in the society, they risk being branded as lacking in leadership qualities.
Is there a middle and safer ground onto which women leaders might settle? There is no arguing with the fact that genteel and feminine refinement has its appeal in the right time and place; but does it have a place in political leadership, and if so, can it survive there without being crashed underfoot?
Kenya has seen its fair share of the outspoken, opinionated variety of women leaders, among them, one-time Justice Minister Martha Karua, who was also the only female presidential candidate in the last elections. Karua, who did not earn the moniker “the iron lady” by being soft spoken, has been one of the most successful women in Kenyan politics.
Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, an environmental and political activist, was also an outspoken woman – her life’s work demanded it, as illustrated by one of her famous quotes: “Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
It may be too early to tell whether Shollei is a hero or a villain, but the saga has certainly given pause for thought about societal attitudes towards women leaders. How realistic are our expectations?
Written By: Carol Gachiengo