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Is the 'women agenda' in Kenya a big lie?

Cabinet Secretary Ministry of public service Margaret Kobia presents the private sector Africa Gender award to CEO KEPSA Carole Kariuki during the celebratory of Africa Gender Awards 2022 at the Villarosa Kempinski in Nairobi. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Kenya’s gender equality commitments regarding the advancement of equality, women, and girls empowerment are enshrined in the Constitution, legal and policy environment and outlined in the gender machinery’s mandates. 

However, despite this provision, and many other provisions such as SDG (Goal 5), Vision 2030, structures, policies, and the push by stakeholders, the country is far from achieving the women Agenda, a decade after Constitution 2010, and the Jubilee administration. 

Dr Rosemary Okello-Orlale, Director of the Africa Media Hub, Strathmore University Business School, and a woman rights activist, says that despite many challenges facing the ratification and implementation of Gender Equality, the country has made strides in advancing the women agenda. 

“This has happened through the enactment of laws on domestic violence, sexual offenses, affirmative procurement of opportunities for women, representation of women in public and elective office, and the establishment of affirmative funds for women-owned businesses,” says Okello-Orlale who is also a founder member of the African Woman and Child Features. 

The pace of achieving the women agenda has been hampered by the inadequate implementation of laws, funding, absence of mechanisms, discriminatory and patriarchal gender norms, attitudes, and weak accountability. Further, she says, the fact that the country has in place masculine systems that do not favour feminism complicates the situation. It is these issues that the political parties must address to implement the women agenda. 

Patriarchal values prevail

According to a UN Women, and Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) report published in 2020, a decade after Constitution 2010, and the Jubilee administration, only 29 per cent of women were considered empowered with only 22 per cent elected, and appointed officials. 

“This to some extent has been contributed to by the fact that despite being a rich multicultural society, patriarchal values and harmful traditional attitudes often prevail,” says Rose Lukalo, a women's rights activist and media practitioner.

Organisations such as UN Women, in partnership with the State Department, and other stakeholders such as the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), have contributed significantly to the push for the women agenda by providing platforms where robust engagements have happened. 

According to the Kenya Bureau of Standards Director General Macdonald Obudho, the firm has the mandate of coordinating the National Assessment System that collects data to inform the planning in matters of the women agenda, especially in the formulation of gender policies. 

“The system has collected data that has helped in identifying gaps during the Women Count survey whose key indicators found out that GBV had gone up during Covid-19, a sizeable number of girls had dropped out of school, teenage pregnancies went up, and the burden of care work for women at home went,” says Mr Obudho. Such gender statistics, he says help in planning and charting the way forward for the women agenda. 

“The question is when will the women agenda be accomplished, and the challenge for all of us is how to accelerate the end of patriarchy, in order to create a society that is free, and equal for all gender,” observes Irungu Houghton, ED, Amnesty International, Kenya. 

Irungu points out that attaining the women agenda requires having women in positions of leadership, and areas of oversight, whether in national or county governments, Senate, National and county assemblies so that they are able to oversight and pass laws and approve the budgetary expenditure, thus raising their profile. He notes that despite not being able to push for the two-thirds gender principle, one of the things that can be said about the Jubilee administration is that it has put women in powerful dockets. 

“We have three women deputy presidential candidates, and that is no mean achievement, it has never happened before, and it is a joy to see them on TV articulating clearly an agenda for this country – intelligent beautiful women”, notes Lukalo. 

Ms Nadia Ahmed Abdalla, Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) at the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, recognises the milestones made. “Yes, we are cognizant of the fact that men are more than women in the elective and appointed positions, but we need a paradigm shift towards the fact that the women agenda is all about working together, and not necessarily ‘kicking men out’, so we can have the gender equality,” says Ms Abdalla. 

She says she is an example of what an empowered woman can achieve, to add value to a man’s leadership (her boss ICT CS, Joe Mucheru), adding that she has used her position to empower the youth and young women. 

“If the women agenda has to be realised, moving forward, younger women need to be empowered and natured to take positions in leadership, politics, parliamentary seats and other leadership positions,” says Ms Abdalla. 

Are the four political parties keen on delivering the women agenda? Mercy Mwangi of KEWOPA notes that though the Government has pushed the agenda, the current political environment does not raise the bar. She says the games being played by male politicians are a sham that has seen many women locked out of the arena, while others have been short-changed. On the ground, she says, things are different.

“We may have more women running, but they will not close the gender rule gap given the numbers at hand,” Ms Mwangi says. She points an accusing finger at the political parties who are “buying off women from contesting by promising them appointments, nominations, and other rewards if they stepped down in favour of their preferred candidates. 

What are political parties promising women? Though Azimio and Kenya Kwanza have lucrative offers in their manifestos, without empowering the very woman they are promising goodies is in vain, notes Lukalo, as without an all-inclusive agenda, the women will be left out in the cold. 

The Azimio party is promising to empower women economically across all sectors and build the capacity of widows, and single mothers, but without them being included in leadership, all these promises are in vain. Kenya Kwanza has seven pledges for women including ensuring a 50-50 per cent leadership share and implementing the two-thirds gender rule, which Irungu, Mwangi, Lukalu, and Okello-Orlale agree is not a reality based on the number of women (60) vying for elective positions. 

Women kicked out

Ms Mwangi has a different view on how the political parties have “kicked women out” of the election race, thereby diminishing the possibility of achieving the two-thirds gender rule. She says, looking at the gazetted list of women candidates, there is no way that the gender rule can be achieved even if all the listed women (14,000 candidates, 1,900 positions, 60 women vying) were to win the elections. 

“The woman has been ‘negotiated’ out the election, which undermines everything that the structures put in place supposedly to introduce women through the nomination and give them experience and exposure to the structures. However, political parties have abused, and manipulated them by promising women nominated positions if they dropped off the race in favour of men,” explains Ms Mwangi. 

Lukalo says there is some hope through IEBC’s High Court-supported decision to reject in totality any list that does not comply with the two-third gender principle. Ms Abdalla believes that with the laid down structures, policies, institutions, activists, and the 2010 Constitution, milestones towards the accomplishment of the women agenda will be met outside of the political party promises.

According to Energy Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma, the women agenda is neither a fallacy nor a lie, and it is all about encompassing the rights agenda and, consciously reconstructing the gender perspective on positions. It’s all about deconstructing some of the innate, presumed truth that has driven society and framed action,” explains Juma.