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Fight for equality set to gain fresh impetus

COMMENTARY
By Margaret Kobia | March 6th 2020

Narc Kenya Chairperson Martha Karua (right) together with Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Public Works Prof Margaret Kobia at a Nairobi hotel on Wednesday, March 04,2020 during the launch of the Africa Women Leaders Network Kenya Chapter. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

It is 25 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, China. Popularly referred to as the Beijing Platform for Action, the conference set up a most visionary agenda for women and girls everywhere. This year the United Nations 64th Convention on Status of Women (CSW 64) will be reviewing the progress made in gender equality the world over under the theme “An Equal World is an Enabled World”.

A new approach to gender equality programming will be introduced this year under the banner “Generation Equality”. What has inspired this change and how does it apply in the Kenyan context?

The Beijing Platform for action identified 12 critical areas that needed strategic action by governments and civil society to enhance the rights of women and remove systemic barriers that hold them back from fully participating in all areas of life. Among these concerns were poverty reduction, education, health, violence, decision-making, and the plight of the girl child. Given the conditions at the time, there was informed reason to advocate for positive bias for the girl child.

Despite some progress, real, tangible and impactful change has been agonisingly slow the world over. Today, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender parity in all areas of life. In Kenya, women and girls still face discrimination, cultural exclusion, and experience inequality on the social and political front. While more women sit in Parliament, they account for only 23 per cent. Women unemployment stands at about 11 per cent against 6 per cent for men. Female-headed households are poorer, at 30 per cent, compared to men at 26 per cent.

Women occupy low-skilled jobs and own fewer assets, compounding their challenges. On gender-based violence, 21 per cent of women still face female genital mutilation (FGM). On women’s health, 23 per cent of girls are married off before the age of 18, exposing them to a high risk of maternal mortality. In addition, the unmet need for contraceptives stands at 26 per cent. True, progress has been made, but there remains considerable unmet goals in Kenya.

Nevertheless, this should not blind us to the progress we have made in many areas. For instance, Kenya has made remarkable progress in the policy and legal environment, particularly on GBV and FGM. The resolve by President Uhuru Kenyatta to end FGM by 2022 has set the pace for the country and galvanised the support of all stakeholders.

Exemplary progress has been realised in matrimonial property, marriage and citizenship rights. In education, universal free primary school policy has nearly achieved equal rates in enrolment for boys and girls. The 100 per cent transition policy will accelerate this trajectory going into secondary education. Fertility rates dropped to 3.9 births per woman in 2014, down from 4.9 in 2003. These are a few of the remarkable advances made that many developing countries would desire to achieve.

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Generation Equality is conceptualised to accelerate progress in these and other areas of concern. It builds on the Beijing action points and demands a radical sense of guided impatience going forward. It envisages equal pay for all genders, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to all forms of sexual and domestic violence, access to healthcare services, and, most importantly, equal participation in political life and decision-making in all areas of life.

The fact that the UN family will review progress 25 years after Beijing means that the gender equality movement is bringing advocates, activists, and visionaries who were instrumental in laying the Beijing foundation, together with change-makers in the new generation of actors.

The new generation consists of change-makers of all ages and genders. They are expected to galvanise the gains made, fill the gaps that are still open, and engender novel, ground-breaking, multi-generational approaches under the Generation Equality banner.

In Kenya, in line with the new spirit, elders and religious leaders, who are predominantly male, are already championing the campaign against FGM.

Generation Equality is a global mobilisation that provides an opportunity for countries to strategise on safeguarding the gains made so far and preventing claw-backs, as has been witnessed on many fronts. The new spirit of a united front is providing space for countries to leverage the opportunities presented by globalisation and technological advancements.

As the world re-imagines economies, forms multi-generational partnerships, and makes adjustments in societies and political systems, human rights and gender equality must be upheld, ultimately setting a new impetus with the aim of leaving no one behind. It is instructive that the UN is leading this campaign that will consist of a series of global conferences that will set the agenda for a global public conversation on gender equality.

In Kenya, our patriarchal leanings have contributed to the historical marginalisation of women and girls. The new approach envisions the promise of a more inclusive, prosperous and peaceful, fair world for all - boys and girls, men and women alike. It is an inter-generational movement that brings together government, international development organisations, civil society and private sector, among others.

The progress we have made demonstrates that this promise is achievable. It is possible to produce tangible and irreversible results on gender equality in line with our constitutional promise, and the global Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal number 5 that envisages a world where all genders enjoy equal opportunities.

Granted, some quarters have expressed concern that the global gender equality campaign has tended to leave behind the boy child. With the new approach, this concern should be comprehensively addressed as it promises to be a galvanising moment that will leave no one behind.

Ms Kobia is Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service and Gender. [email protected]

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