We have been to the rugged mountains, lush green fields, down valleys in pursuit for women equality in this nation. Thus it is possible that gains accrued in 2013 have been assumed. For us to plan ahead for the New Year, we have to learn from history. As Baffour Ankomah of the New African says, “is no today without a yesterday, and unless one dies today, there can be no tomorrow without a today.”
To begin with, there are six women out of 16 members to cabinet portfolios in the country. Six women at the helm! This is a step in the right direction in implementing the two-thirds gender rule in the Kenya 2010 Constitution.
In addition, 87 of the 416 seats in the newly-established National Assembly and Senate chambers are held by women. Previously, just 22 women sat in the old 222-seat Parliament. Clearly, the constitution has a focus on working with women.
The Jubilee manifesto of President Uhuru Kenyatta has seen the provision of free maternal services in public hospitals. Article 43 of the constitution guarantees the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health services, including reproductive health care. Thus, free maternal services addresses the issue of maternal and infant mortality rates especially in rural and marginalised areas. This is vital as maternal mortality is the primary cause of premature death and disability among women of reproductive age in Kenya.
Notably also, the Government has set up gender desks at police stations and strengthened capacity among its officers to handle cases of gender-based violence. This was echoed during the launch of the gender desk by YWLI that gave a critical report of the situation of gender desks. I sampled some police stations and I was impressed by what the BabaDogo police station was doing to promote these desks. They had a lady police officer on the ready to listen to issues of GBV. Also, early last year, a sexual offender’s registry was set up by the judiciary.
To reinforce these efforts, the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW) has an online Platform through which any person can send in a report of violence (physical and sexual), death, threats, intimidation, displacement, and relocation of persons, abductions or any other form of violence. The tool now permanently assists in tracking trends of GBV in Kenya whilst also offering an avenue of identifying advocacy and intervention opportunities to strengthen support and assistance provided to survivors of SGBV in Kenya.
In matters of property, and succession, women’s access to land and other property had been severely restricted by customary law and practice, which essentially prohibits women from owning or inheriting land and other forms of property. However, the Kenyan Government has proposed a law- Marriage Bill 2013- that would give men and women equal status within marriages. The Bill also bans mandatory bride-price payments, recognizes co-habiting couples, and legalizes polygamy.
The proposed marriage reform law would also recognize a couple that has been living together for six-months, so called “come-we-stay” relationships, as legally married. Other reforms in the proposed law would protect widows from wife inheritance; it also proposes that the minimum age for marriage to 18 among other provisions.
Education is one of the most efficient tools for promoting gender equality. Enrolment in primary school is more or less equal for girls and boys thanks to the policy of free primary education. An equal education system is central to dismantling the patriarchal nature of Kenyan society and in the process increasing the chances that women will play a more active and recognised role in Kenyan society.
However, it has not to be all rosy for us. Kenya has significant differences in literacy levels between men and women, with 30 per cent of women illiterate compared to 14 per cent of men. These discrepancies in education appear as not all the girls who have attained primary education proceed to secondary school. Consequently it limits the number of women enrolling in higher education and those who end up to senior positions in society.
In the political arena, the playing field for men and women is tilted in favour of, sadly, men. For instance, in the political party nominations prior the March 2013 general election, in which female candidates faced significant obstacles compared to their male competitors. Most of the disadvantages faced by female candidates could be traced back to patriarchal structures in Kenyan society and the widespread perception that women are unfit for leadership positions.
Also, unemployment is significantly higher among young women compared to young men. The unemployment rate for young women has been 50 per cent, compared to 30 per cent for young men, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This translates that there is a significant risk of this marginalisation from society feeding into increased frustration and manifesting in rising tensions and possible civil unrest.
The Kenyan legal system has in many instances failed to react decisively to crimes against women and to safeguard women’s rights. This has undermined confidence in the legal system. In many cases, there is no justice for the victims of sexual abuse. In other instances, disputes are dealt with outside the formal legal system resulting in many crimes going with light punishment, unpunished and or ignored. As it was with the case with the girl, Liz, who was gang raped in Busia County. It had to take the intervention of NGO’s, other arms of government as well as a global appeal to have redress to Liz’s case.
Another challenge that has clouded our gains is on free maternal service. While it is lauded, it is still dodged by the persistence strikes, lack of resources particularly staff. The health care system also needs to be capacitated to handle psychological trauma and other health-related conditions stemming from abuse. Because a woman born and living in Kenya faces a higher risk of being sexually abused, beaten or killed.
Nonetheless, we are not where we were 50 years ago. We have come of age and we have more chances tomorrow to make it better for another woman, for another person.
George Orwell’s words sum up my thoughts. “He, who controls the past, controls the future. He, who controls the future, controls the present.” We know our past and present as women, we too control the future…it is just a matter of when it happens.
We need your energy, dreams and presence for 2014.
Happy New Year!
First Published at http://www.ywli.org