Tag Archives: Gender equality

One step at a time…..

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

untappedresource

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.

I am not my skirt

After the general elections of 2013, the number of women in the Kenyan parliament has increased significantly. This was due to concerted efforts by various stakeholders as well as affirmative action on gender as enshrined in the constitution. This was also due to the realization that as a country wholesome and meaningful development could not be achieved without getting women involved in political leadership.

Though we still have not met the desired target, it has been refreshing to see these numbers rise in the 11th parliament. The idea is that with a stake in running the affairs of this country,  women will bring to the fore critical issues that affect them as well as the citizenry of this country. It was therefore a bit of a disappointment for me when watching news the other day , I heard of the efforts of Kisumu North ward representative, Caroline Owen,  to have a motion passed in her county banishing women from sitting astride while in skirts when being carried by motorcycles. Apparently, the Luo culture does not permit women to sit with their legs apart as it portrays a ‘bad image’.  See the featured story here. She also adds that the sitting position is uncultured and deprives women of respect because they ‘expose their bodies to men’.

Granted, she has a right to voice her opinion as any other leader, but I strongly disagree with her viewpoint.  She argues that the position distracts the male riders. We cannot continue to confine our women and how they should live their lives in the confines of  negative culture. Am not one to belittle culture, but it should be positive culture at that.  Practices such as FGM (Female Genital Multilation), wife inheritance and early marriages have been strongly lobbied against because they work to the detriment of the rights of women. Negative culture also invokes matters of sexuality to yoke women and suppresses their right to choice and having a say in their very own lives.

A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta to do!
A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta to do!

The Kisumu North Ward representative in trying to push this motion assumes that we do not have women who own motorcycles and bicycles and use them to undertake activities in their everyday life. These women have to sit astride to operate these modes of transport which are not the preserve of men! As a leader she should be encouraging women to rise up and take up any viable economic activity that will help them lead a more decent life.  Am sure that there are more pressing issues that women grapple with in her county that need attention.  Issues like access to quality reproductive health services especially for pregnant mothers and sex workers, access to quality education, access to opportunities that create employment and a source of income for the women etc.

Telling women to dress and act a certain way in my opinion is irrelevant and should not be given the time of day. It is this same kind of retrogressive thinking that misinformed individuals use to justify rape. That when a woman dresses and acts a certain way she is prone to assault.  It might seem trivial as it is, but am afraid as a leader who is an inspiration to many girls in her area, she is taking us back to defining women through the eyes of negative culture. That women have to behave and act in a certain way to appease the men, that before undertaking any activity, she has to think of how society will judge her. I’d also like to think that there are many men in Kisumu County who have never been bothered by this issue.

Let women carry on with their lives the way they feel best. You cannot dictate the mannerisms and dressing of either women or men for that matter, they have a right to simply choose what form of transport to use from point A to B and how to go about it. Let us focus on more important agenda, we have come too far in the right to choice for women to be taken aback.