Towards the end of August, I attended the Gender forum that is an initiative of Heinrich Boll Stiftung. The forum provides a platform for all stakeholders involved in Gender issues to share ideas as well as debate on the gender issues of our day. The theme for this particular forum was; Representation of women in political leadership:Taking stock.
The forum took cognizance of the fact that in the 11th parliament (both in the senate and national assembly); the number of women had significantly increased. The National assembly now has a total of 67 women with 47 women representatives and 16 from the dual gender constituencies. The senate now has 18 women nominated by political parties while the county assemblies were compelled by law to enforce the gender rule during the nomination process.
The main aim of the forum was to take stock of the significance of these affirmative action positions and its implications on Kenyan women in terms of leadership. It also aimed at recognizing the emerging benefits as well as challenges accruing from this. Panelist included Prof. Amb. Maria Nzomo, Senator Martha Wangari, Hon. Dr. Phoebe Asiyo, Mr. Barasa Nyukuri and Ms. Daisy Amdany.
It was quite interesting to listen to Prof. Amb. Maria Nzomo and Hon. Dr. Phoebe Asiyo talk of how far the women movement has come. It is quite worthwhile to note that these are some of the early pioneers of the women movement who fought for the recognition of the rights of women and have trodden the difficult path to challenge the patriarchal systems that is Kenyan politics.
Here are some of the key highlights that I picked up during the discussions:
1. We must continue to lobby for the 2/3 gender rule to be enforced as we do not have the desired number of women yet at the helm. This was shelved after a court ruling that stated that this would be progressively attained in 2015. We cannot settle until this is enforced because if we do, we are likely to slowly regress to the old order.
2. Elected women who are already in the 11th parliament are our best bet in pushing the issues that affect women at the national front. They need, and deliberately so, to be visible in the advocacy of the women agenda and advance certain critical issues that affect women like quality maternal care, gender discrimination, Gender Based Violence etc
3. Affirmative action is even now more than ever, very critical so that women (recognized in the constitution as a vulnerable group) are able to compete at par with the men. We still solely equate affirmative action with women perhaps because of the injustices they have had to endure in many spheres of life. The forum however pointed out that in a different context and time, another vulnerable group will require affirmative action. Even men! This is because affirmative action is aimed at bridging the gaps in society so that all citizenry feel equally represented.
4. Mentorship for aspiring young parliamentarians is very crucial to ensuring that they are able to enter into the political foray and withstand the many challenges that come with it. The women who have already made it, need to encourage as well as steward those who are interested. This equips them better to anticipate the myriad of challenges as well as how to circumvent them. Issues like finances are such a huge obstacle faced by young women entering into the political arena. Networking is one sure way of building their capacity and showing them the various avenues they can explore as they set out to campaign and garner community support.
5. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the day was the talk by Mr. Baraza Nyukuri who is a Gender and Governance consultant. He emphasized that the quest for gender equality in all spheres of society will only be achieved when we begin changing our mindset about how we feel about the roles of men and women. That we should begin to realize it is not about women taking over power at the expense of men, because that is where we miss the point. The idea is about men and women working together, sharing power and resources in a fair manner that befits all. It’s about letting our boys and girls know from an early age that despite their biological set up, they can venture into any fields or career they want to because the society should not dictate what they can or cannot do based on what it deems as ‘appropriate’ for them.