It's time we all employ innovative ways to push the interests of women

Last Friday was International Women’s Day. This day, observed each year, celebrates the achievements of women across the world. More importantly it brings to the world’s attention the challenges women undergo in the social, political and economic spheres and provides opportunities for experience and proposal sharing on how we can address issues that prejudice women. For all our challenges in many areas, Kenya has over the last decade made significant strides in the empowerment of women.

Most importantly, the equitable treatment of women in all sectors is a constitutional imperative. Consequently, significant strides have been made in affirmative action and in removing laws and practices that were used to subjugate and oppress women. At both County and National level, government has been forced by law, kicking and screaming, to appoint women to critical executive positions.

In the legislature, the Constitution has added the number of women exponentially even though we are yet to meet the constitutional threshold. Last elections, Kenya elected three women Governors and three women Senators. While this may look miniscule, anyone who has taken part in Kenya’s male centric electoral process will tell you that is a tremendous achievement. On the economic front, the much abused AGPO (Access to Government Procurement Opportunities) was meant to enable women and young people access government tenders without the typical rigorous barriers to entry. In the social sector, the greater attention given to sexual offences, which disproportionally victimise women, has tempered sexual related abuse. Investments by government in free issue of sanitary pads have made it easier for girls to attend classes through the month like their male peers.

One could go on and on. But while all these achievements are worthy of celebration, we are still so far from a gender balanced Kenya. While many proposals have been made about how to improve Kenya’s gender equity status, I have one view on what will not assist the process and two areas that might help push the dial higher.

The thing that will not work is the proposal to increase the number of women parliamentarians through nominations. That boat sailed. The fact that Kenyans today complain about “too many MPs” but only in relation to the elected Women Reps and Women nominees tells you that we need other avenues to close the gender gap on representation. The proposal to reduce constituencies but have two representatives, one male and one female is a more viable option.

On things that may yield pro-gender balance results, I have two proposals. On the question of increased women participation in political leadership, one low hanging fruit is to support the women already elected to leadership to succeed and therefore excite the imagination of Kenyans on possibilities of women leadership. If there was concerted efforts by government and development partners to “affirmative action” the three elected governors (and I pray I am not accused of bias) their success would say more about women leadership than a thousand seminars. Obviously, these honourable women must work ten times more than their male peers to get noticed and ensure there is no whiff of underhand dealings under their watch. We Kenyans tend to be disproportionately ruthless on women leaders.

Secondly, we must invest in programmes that uplift the rank and file of women economically. Government can make numerous policy interventions that target women’s economic empowerment. Whether that is empowering women Saccos in particular trades, whether it is arranging infrastructural and financial support to sectors that advantage women, this will be the bedrock of a gender balanced world. Let me use fishing as an example.

Most micro fish traders are women. If county governments invested more resources in micro-fish storage facilities and better fish markets and market access and then ensured that women Saccos and chamas in this sector were facilitated through diverse interventions, this would revolutionalise the economic power of women in the fishing regions. So; while we have made important strides, the long distance ahead demands innovative ways of pushing the interests of women. By now we must know that when women succeed, families succeed. And the nation goes much further.

- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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